Aug 18, 2020
Aug 13, 2020
A country bro explaining to his hottie why the truck happened to stop in this pasture
When you meet somebody who loves Tyler Childers as much as you do
Mama said the sling blade is the devil's right hand
When Dwight Yoakam goes to a party where they're playing Florida-Georgia Line
A politically incorrect person making a Luke Bryan joke
When a creepy dude you just met won't shut the f*** up about his favorite singer, Mitchell Tenpenny
Would you rather get free tickets to a Kane Brown concert or pay $20 for french fried potaters?
When I hear a snap beat in a "country" song
May 28, 2020
There are few figures in country music as inherently cool as Steve Earle. An influence on many younger country and Americana artists both musically and politically, the alt country legend has made a career out of doing things his own way, everything else be damned. In that spirit, instead of making what he would call a "preaching to the choir album,” amid the extreme political tensions of 2020, he chose to release a record for people who likely didn’t vote the way he did, seeking to use his music to unite us and focus on our common ground. Earle made an album for the twenty-nine miners who lost their lives in the Upper Big Branch Mine explosion in 2010 because of a coal company’s carelessness and disregard for their safety, and for the families who must wake up without their loved ones every day. Ghosts of West Virginia is a loving ode to that state and to its people, as well as a cry for justice from those forgotten miners and their families.
The album paints a somber picture of Appalachian life right from the opening song, “Heaven Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere.” At once futile and hopeful, this song highlights the duality of feeling defeated and forgotten in this world while also looking forward to heaven with hope and joy. It’s a reminder that nothing in this life is certain and that we can’t take any of it with us when we die, either the happiness or the sorrow we found on earth.
The struggle between hope and hopelessness continues throughout the record. They exist side by side and simultaneously. “Time is Never on our Side” is similar to the opener, but this one focuses more on the riddle that is time; it can fly or crawl, and as every moment passes by, we have less of it. The grandfather in “Black Lung” reflects that he knew the day of his first shift in a coal mine that this would be his fate someday, yet in the next breath he declares that "half a life is better than nothing at all,” saying that he wouldn’t have been able to make it without becoming a miner all those years ago. Mining is presented as the only viable option, the lesser of the evils when the other choice is a lifetime of financial hardship and struggling to survive.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the album closer, “The Mine,” where the narrator is trying to console his partner by saying that things will get better when his brother pulls some strings at the mine where he works and gets this man hired. Upon first listen, it may seem like the album climax comes in “It’s About Blood,” where Steve Earle’s anger is on display in full force as he rails against the coal companies that can so callously allow these things to happen and then call it an accident, and certainly his fury is infectious as the song culminates in the naming of all twenty-nine miners who gave their lives that fateful day. But it’s really here in the quiet end to the record where the most sobering reality lies, that despite lungs full of coal dust and the possibility of disaster, working in the mines is still the dream for this West Virginian, still the only form of hope in this life. This narrator says that if he were going to try and make a life outside the state, he probably would have by now, but he can’t leave the mountains he has loved since he was a child. So he will stay in West Virginia and hope for the day when things will get better, when he will go to work in the mine and be able to provide a better life for his family.
With Ghosts of West Virginia, Steve Earle has made an outstanding, timeless tribute to the people of Appalachia. This is not only a record for the miners who lost their lives at the Upper Big Branch mine but also for the living miners who toil underground each day, for the men who gave their best years to a coal company in exchange for enough money to get by and permanent damage to their lungs, and for all of the forgotten people of West Virginia who find little joy in this world and seek their rest in the hereafter. The album captures all the beauty of this land right along with all of the harshness and hardship, and Steve Earle’s love for this place and these people shines brightly throughout. This will be one of the finest records of 2020 and one of the greatest albums in Steve Earle’s storied discography.
Apr 18, 2020
Apr 2, 2020
They say Gram Parsons was the Godfather of alt country, and I believe them. Evidence abounds. If that’s the case, Steve Earle was the Michael to Parsons’ Vito. I don’t know – though I doubt it – that they ever met. If they had, I’m sure Steve would have told us. Funny thing: Neither knew they were part of a musical movement. At least Steve didn’t in 1986, when Guitar Town came out, and I was a sophomore in college and about to ship out for Army basic training. (I have Auburn University’s WEGL to thank for even knowing who he was at the time.)
It was a record that transformed my musical life. Suddenly it was okay -- cool, even -- for a kid raised on rock ‘n’ roll to dig country music. He was part of the “new traditionalist” movement that included Randy Travis and Dwight Yoakam. But there was something extra-edgy about this guy. A few years later I’d learn to play guitar, inspired by the songs on Guitar Town and Exit 0. I’d write to him in prison, after I’d wondered, pre-Internet, where the hell he’d gone.
There was always a populist, working-class ethos to his music. But it stayed mostly below the surface, never predominating his work. Well, for a while, anyway. His dad was an air traffic controller who got bounced when Ronaldus Maximus fired him and the rest of his brethren in the PATCO strike of 1981. I don’t think Steve ever got over that. Politics sprinkled his musical world for a while, but eventually covered it. Early on, he was clever and nuanced about it; later, he decided you needed to be punched in the mouth with his Che Guevara chic. Steve Earle, you see, was “woke” before “woke” was a thing…you little savage capitalists.
He had his (then) pet projects. Death penalty bad! Land mines bad! I guess we can let Steve in on the bad news – not that he doesn’t know.
Quadruple murderers can still get the needle.
American soldiers in the Second Infantry Division just south of the 38th Parallel in Free Korea can still count on defensive land mines to help stave off Kim Jong Un’s communist hordes, at least until the cavalry can arrive.
Western Civilization can be thankful that Steve Earle failed in his woke crusades to abolish the death penalty and land mines.
There’s a new pet project, you know. You didn’t? You didn’t know Steve Earle’s a playwright? Yeah! And he doesn’t hate Trump supporters anymore. (I’m not one, so I don’t really care, but yeah.) He talked all about how he doesn’t loathe Republicans anymore. I’m sure it’s not because he wants people to SPEND THEIR CAPITALIST DOLLARS to buy records or go see his play or anything. It’s all about the West Virginia miners. Not money. Money is evil, like capitalism.
But that’s not why we’re here.
We’re here to break down the albums of Steve Earle. Well, the ones of his pre-WOKE era, anyway. And by “pre-woke,” we mean every album up to the point he became so overcome with hatred for America that he felt compelled to write an ode to the American Taliban, John Walker Lindh. Nah. We stop just before the album Jerusalem.
I say “we.”
I mean “I.”
I quit listening, Steve, when you glorified Lindh. My fellow Auburn alum, Mike Spann, was the wrong American to die that day in Balkh Province in November of 2001. It should have been the California POS you wrote your song about.
Oh, wait. I’m getting angry and political, aren’t I? Sort of like you and all your records after 9/11? Mike Spann’s buried in Arlington. Think you’ll ever write a song about him? Here’s a picture.
Sorry. Let’s look at the Steve Earle albums before he got so angry and political, shall we?
Okay, let’s break them down…
One more thing, sorry. Hey, Steve: I’m sure your reaching out to Trump voters has nothing to do with making money for your stupid effing play that trashes the coal industry that employs millions of people, right? Because that would make you a capitalist…and a hypocrite.
Okay, I promise. I’m done.
We’ll look at them in chronological order, highlighting the great songs, then do a rating, which will be purely subjective. Sound good? Okay.
The pre-prison albums
Guitar Town, 1986
The one that started it all. The title cut is so good and attention-grabbing. It was just SO different for the time. Kathy Mattea and Randy Travis and Michael Martin Murphy were pulling country back to its roots, but there was an anti-hero vibe from this guy who’d learned his chops from Guy Clark and Townes. This sad song is the one that hooked me. “Lovers leave and friends will let you down.” I think he might have been singing about heroin.
Exit 0, 1987
The perfect follow-up record. If you go through the whole (pre-woke) Steve Earle catalog, I challenge you to find two back-to-back albums that pair together more seamlessly. “The keeper at the gate is blind, so you better be prepared to pay.” So much unintentional foreshadowing. “The Rain Came Down” was his answer to Mellencamp’s “Scarecrow,” and it was better. “Six Days on the Road” made it onto the Planes, Trains and Automobiles soundtrack. “Someday” is a teenage wonder-hit.
Copperhead Road, 1988
At this point, Steve and MCA knew they were headed for a breakup, even as he had his first – and only – crossover hit. He didn’t LOOK like a country singer was supposed to, and he was basically telling Nashville to pound sand. So very many great songs… “Snake Oil” is his song of rage against Reagan, and well done. Maria Mckee of Lone Justice sings with him on the most unlikely Christmas song, “Nothing But a Child.” My favorite? The WW II ode, “Johnny Come Lately,” with the help of The Pogues.
The Hard Way, 1990
Things are really starting to fall apart for him now, though no one really knew – again, pre-Internet. Crack and heroin are in control of Steve’s life right now. There are two or three decent songs on this one. “Billy Austin” is the best, but it’s a bedwetting, anti-death penalty, pro-murderer ballad. We’re posting the other good one:
Shut Up And Die Like An Aviator (Live), 1991
If we’re to believe the storyline of “Johnny Come Lately,” we have to believe the title of this album is from a saying of Steve’s granddaddy. He’s pretty out of his gourd during this one. But this cover got me interested in the Stones’ (Keith’s, really) country fixation.
The Post-prison albums
“Post-prison,” you say?
Yeah. Steve got 11 months, 29 days for a bunch of failure-to-appear violations on crack/heroin offenses. In fact, he did a prison gig at Cold Creek Correctional Facility as part of his community service. MTV filmed it, while he was working out some new material. This was in 1996. But first there was…
Train A Comin’, 1995
A truly unplugged album, and a new beginning. It features a Beatles cover (“I’m Lookin’ Through You”), and his first recorded cover with Emmylou, “Nothin’ Without You.” We also got a taste for Steve’s appreciation for history with a couple cuts. “Tom Ames’ Prayer” is an outlaw ballad that makes mention of Arkansas Judge “Hanging” Isaac Parker. But what’s really chilling is his point-of-view tale of a Confederate soldier:
I Feel Alright, 1996
The post-prison triumph and return to form, and maybe the best pre-woke album. “The Unrepentant” is a straight rocker. “Hardcore Troubadour” is the most Steve Earle song ever, and a duet with Lucinda Williams is the unheralded gem of a great record.
El Corazon, 1997
Notable for several collaborations, and Steve’s first foray into bluegrass. Del McCoury and his band (FORESHADOWING ALERT) post up on “I Still Carry You Around.” The Fairfield Four accompany him on “Telephone Road.” Emmy makes a return on the historiography “Taneytown,” another great point-of-view song. “You’d think that they’d never seen a colored boy before.” What a line in a great murder ballad.
This next one’s so good it deserves its own
Separate Heading. Though Still Chronological, The Bluegrass Record:
The Mountain (With The Del McCoury Band), 1999
The thing about bluegrass is, you don’t just dabble in bluegrass. Yet Steve wrote a really good record in the genre. It didn’t hurt that he got a really good band to back him. Steve, being Steve, managed to offend Del not long after by using a bunch of foul language at the bluegrass festivals they played together. Still, what a bunch of keepers on this record. “Carrie Brown” was his vision of an enduring bluegrass hit. It should be.
But just to bookend things, I like the Civil War song, this time from a Yankee’s point of view. Based, incidentally, on a composite character in the Michael Shaara novel The Killer Angels.
“I am Kilrain from the 20th Maine and I fight for Chamberlain. ‘Cause he stood right with us when the Johnnies came like a banshee on the wind.”
There will never be a better couplet written about July 2, 1863. Makes this Johnny weep. It’s that good.
“…now we’re all Americans.”
Transcendental Blues, 2000
As we wrap up our tour of the pre-woke catalog, we see a transition into what might have been: that old/new Steve Earle sound without virtue-signaling pretense. There are a handful of really good songs here. The title cut is great. “Everyone’s In Love With You” is an electric rocking/stalking tune in the tradition of “More Than I Can Do” from I Feel Alright. “The Galway Girl” is a return to a Gaelic thing we’d heard hints of on a bunch of records. “All Of My Life” is a real keeper. Sucks he had to get all preachy after this record.
Maybe he’ll come back, that Steve Earle.
1. Copperhead Road
2. Guitar Town
3. I Feel Alright
4. Exit 0
5. The Mountain
6. Train A Comin’
7. Transcendental Blues
8. El Corazon
9. Shut Up and Die Like an Aviator
10. The Hard Way
Mar 26, 2020
When some dude says Turnpike Troubadours is overrated
In the midst of this stressful international crisis, FGL is releasing a song called "I Love My Country"
When somebody you hate comes in wearing a Tyler Childers t-shirt
I'm about to read the comment section on a Kane Brown video
When your friend has to go to a Luke Bryan concert with a girl he just met
What's the saddest Steve Earle song?
My album collection is pretty good but...
I wish it was larger
Mar 20, 2020
|Photo by Kenny King|
Today we have a video premiere from Kentuckian Andy Brasher for the song “Drugs in the Tip Jar.” It’s a tune from his debut album Myna Bird, out April 3. “Drugs in the Tip Jar” is a driving country rocker that takes a peek into the life of a touring musician, many of whom would kill for a tip jar at this moment. The song is catchy and real, with strong vocals and a healthy dose of humor and easy-going heartland rocking. Highly recommended to fans of John Mellencamp, Chris Knight, Steve Earle, and Cody Jinks.
This is a true story from my time in Nashville. I lived there in the early 2000's. When I first moved there, I was working on songwriting primarily. I focused on getting co-writes and playing open mic nights at the Bluebird and Douglas Corner Cafe, among others. I wanted to get a publishing deal. I roomed with a couple of friends in a small apartment, but, I still had to pay my part of the rent, so I'd gig as often as I could. Broadway wasn't really my thing (although I played plenty of those shows if I had to)...I'd try my best to play little neighborhood bars around Nashville.
One such place wasn't far from my apartment, so I ended up there a lot. I was glad to have a gig so close to home, but let's just say...I lived in kind of a "sketchy" neighborhood.
After my first gig at this place, I checked the tip jar and was pretty surprised. Yeah, I had a few dollar bills, a good tip or two...but I also had a little street drug store hanging out in the very bottom. You name it..."go fast", "go slow", pills, a joint...and this kept happening at that place! It led me to wonder, 'What makes them think I want this? Is it me? Is it them? Do I want this?'. Aside from encouraging me to take a little self-inventory, I thought it also warranted a song.
More about Andy under the video!
Andy Brasher - Myna Bird
Kentucky's Andy Brasher brings fresh energy to the Americana music scene through his vivid storytelling, soulfully captivating vocals and mastery of his instrument -- all of which are on full display with his stunning debut solo release, Myna Bird.
Having already headlined shows across the U.S. and internationally, Brasher’s previous band Brasher/Bogue has also shared the marquee with Tim McGraw, Kid Rock, Kenny Chesney, Hank Williams Jr., Charlie Daniels, Blackberry Smoke and many more over the course of their tenure.
Produced by Harry Lee Smith (Restless Heart, Angeleena Presley, Martina McBride) and multi-Grammy award winner Ross Hogarth (Keb’ Mo’, Shawn Colvin, REM, John Mellencamp) at Nashville’s renowned Blackbird Studios, Myna Bird is equal parts modern Americana and stone-cold country, laden with folk philosophy and clever turns of phrase. Smith & Hogarth’s expert production flourishes are apparent throughout, from the warmth of the acoustic guitars, radio-ready electric guitar tones and licks, the crack of each snare hit, to Brasher’s singular vocals nestled neatly on top of each track.
Opener “21” sets the tone for the record with soaring, reverb-tinged electric guitars layered with urgently-strummed acoustic instrumentation. It’s a vibrant tune harkening back to “the good old days” and the innocence of youth on the cusp of adulthood -- the perfect soundtrack for a windows-down weekend drive through the countryside.
Title track “Myna Bird” showcases Brasher’s introspective side, the country ballad’s title taken from the nickname his mother gave him as a child due to his ability to quickly memorize song lyrics from the radio (Brasher notes with a chuckle that she “probably meant mockingbird”). It’s also a gutting tribute to the late Wayne Mills, a legend of the honky tonk circuit, as well as a friend and a mentor to Brasher before his tragic passing.
“He spent his whole life going out there and playing music. His original music was every bit the truth...it was so great,” Brasher recalls. “But he was running himself ragged getting to and from these bars, forced to play ‘Wagon Wheel’ and ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ over and over.” Therein lies the myna bird comparison -- both artists had their own music and message to take on the road, but they end up playing the same songs everyone’s already heard in order to keep themselves on the road -- a duality of working the honky tonk circuit.
“If She Loves” also runs along the country ballad thread, a slow-burning number featuring sparse acoustic production that builds into a wall of sound led by wailing electric slide guitar. Originally intended as a love letter to Brasher’s longtime girlfriend, as it was written the song evolved into an anthem lifting up and celebrating the strength and perseverance of all women.
“Drugs in the Tip Jar” chronicles the stranger-than-fiction tale of Brasher’s early experiences playing for tips in Nashville’s honky tonks -- unexpectedly finding his tip jar filled with multiple types of contraband in lieu of cash at the end of a set. It’s a rollicking, stone-cold country song that would likely have worn out jukeboxes in years gone by.
Born and raised in Owensboro, Kentucky, music was a family affair for Brasher from an early age. After learning to play the acoustic guitar -- taught by his father and grandfather -- crafting songs became second nature for him. Brasher studied under the lyrically driven music of Townes Van Zandt, Steve Earle, Bob Dylan, and Guy Clark, while also taking sonic cues from rock luminaries of the era such as Lynyrd Skynyrd, Led Zeppelin, and Queen. At the age of fourteen, Andy started his first band and began performing at parties, festivals, and bars in his hometown. Through his soulful interpretation of covers as well as his original works, he built a large and loyal local following that gave him the courage to relocate to Nashville and explore the music scene. Brasher refined his skills in the Music City’s renowned honky tonks and songwriting circles, gaining wisdom through valuable life lessons along the way.
In 2009, Brasher and fellow musician Dustin Bogue recorded an album of ten songs and formed the band Brasher/Bogue. While formed as a duet, Brasher/Bogue grew into a five-piece band that began their touring career on Kenny Chesney’s 2011 “Goin’ Coastal” tour. By 2012, Brasher/Bogue had produced three albums and were a staple of the festival circuit, as well as regularly supporting top national acts.
Feb 11, 2020
Nov 11, 2019
Oct 28, 2019
Aug 27, 2019
Mar 14, 2019
Mar 7, 2019
Feb 14, 2019
Nov 8, 2018
Oct 30, 2018
Sep 19, 2018
Jul 27, 2018
By Kevin Broughton
Almost two years ago, Kasey Anderson opened up in depth here about his spiraling descent from artist-on-the-cusp to grifting, locked-up addict. He was then not quite a year post-prison. And while there was still a hint of an artist’s confidence about him, it was tempered by the gun-shyness you’d expect of a guy fresh from the halfway house and with a long list of pissed-off victims, many of them former friends.
Little did he know that within a couple of months he’d begin the long, cathartic and ad hoc process of recording a comeback album. In fact, he really had no clue what would come of the sessions, done virtually pro bono by a collection of generous friends and musical colleagues from the Portland indie scene.
Anderson’s voice on the telephone is stronger today. He sounds healthier, no doubt buoyed by the album-making process that was critical to his ongoing restoration as a man. The humility is still there, no doubt, but the knowledge that he’s made a really solid rock ‘n’ roll record has put a spring in his step. From A White Hotel, released today on emerging label Julian Records, is poignant, introspective and sprinkled with Anderson’s trademark irony, starting with the title, a reference to his drab lodgings for more than two years. Oh, and his name isn’t on it.
We caught up with Anderson with just a few days to go before his nuptials, and talked redemption, recovery, the virtues of not being preachy, and the inevitable Steve Earle comparisons. And the whole, stupid “outlaw country” thing.
I’m curious about the way your band is billed. I was partial to the name “Kasey Anderson and The Honkies.” “Hawks and Doves” is the name of an underrated Neil Young album & song; why the switch? Were you worried about the local Portland anarchist community torching your pad to protest your white privilege? Sorry, I know it’s low-hanging fruit…
Ha! No. First, I decided to do it under a band name because of the way the record came together. I had written all the lyrics and had the structure of the songs, but the instrumentation came together in such a collaborative way that it felt disingenuous just to put my name on it. And The Honkies, I didn’t want to go back to that because all those guys were such strong personalities in their own right, and I just kinda wanted to leave it there with those guys because I have such fond memories of that band.
And I love that Neil Young record. The phrase “hawks and doves” is a political and military term. It seemed pretty appropriate for what’s going on now. Plus, it just sounds cool.
The first time I heard that song was on Scott Miller & The Commonwealth’s live album…
Yeah, yeah! From The V Roys!
And since it’s not “Kasey and the Hawks and Doves,” just the band name, any concern that nobody will know it’s you?
I don’t think it’s a horrible thing for me to make a clean break with the work that I did and the life that I led as a solo artist. It wasn’t a calculated move to do that; maybe it’s an added benefit? And I think that the way it’s being marketed through the press, it’s pretty clear that it’s a band I’m involved in.
This is a collection of a dozen pretty dang good songs. How long have they been percolating? Did some of these words get put to paper while you were locked up?
Yeah, about half of them were written while I was locked up, during my second year in prison. “Every Once in a While,” for instance, is about my first cellmate. That’s his story much more than mine. The other five or six songs happened around after the election, in late 2016. It took us a long time to make the record because of the way we went about it.
Tell me about this band, and how you got the record made; I imagine raising funds to get an album done might have been challenging for someone in your position.
The band is Jordan Richter (guitars,) Ben Landsverk (bass, keys, viola, background vocals) and Jesse Moffat (drums, percussion). Other folks who played are Eric “Roscoe” Ambel, Kurt Bloch, Ralph Carney, Kay Hanley and Dave Jorgensen.
Jordan engineered it and owns a recording studio in town. And I think right after you and talked last time, some folks reached out and asked if I’d like to contribute a track for a benefit record they were involved in. I told Jordan, “Hey, I’d really like to do this, but I don’t have money to pay for studio time or to pay session players.” And he said, “Are you sure you want to do a benefit record?” (Laughs)
…I wasn’t gonna say anything. It was a real thing, though, right?
(Laughs) Yeah, it was a real thing. It was to help this woman named Jennifer Holmes – who has since passed away – with her cancer treatments. So once I proved to him that it was a real thing, he said he’d get some people together. We covered this song called “Wise Blood” by the band Tender Mercies. At the end of the session Jordan said, “Man, if you ever want to just come in the studio and roll tape, everybody gets your situation and knows that you don’t have a bunch of money to throw into making a record. There are people willing to play your songs for fun and just see where it goes.”
And that’s what we did. Jordan would text a group of us that said, “I have this day where the studio’s not in use, and you don’t have to pay me for the time.” So it took us more than a year, because we’d do a day here and there, and everybody would go back to their lives. So that’s how the record got made, and it was really generous of him to do that.
And then I sent [the album] to several of my friends and said, “I really don’t know what to do with this; I can’t put it out.” I have a friend named Nathan Earle here in Portland who’s in a band called The Get Ahead, and he told me about this new label, Julian Records. “They seem to be looking for bands,” he said. “Why don’t you send it to them?” I had planned to just try and put it out digitally, but the Julian Records folks were into it, and took it from there.
That’s certainly fortuitous.
It’s very fortuitous, and the only way it was going to come out physically. I mean it’s not really cost-prohibitive to get an album out digitally. But this was very generous. Everybody seemed to think the songs were cool, and were like, “Don’t worry about it right now, let’s just see what happens.”
When last we spoke, we touched on your being medicated for bipolar disorder, and how that can sometimes stifle creativity in artists of all stripes. There’s a line in “Lithium Blues” that says, “You took the words right out of my mouth.” Is there a balance you find yourself having to strike between mental health and creativity?
Yeah, for sure. “Lithium Blues” might have been the first thing I wrote in prison that I was really happy with. I had to go back and figure out, okay, there’s an element of magic to creativity, but there’s a much bigger element of math to it. And I know how to make a song so that the pieces fit together. If I can trust myself enough to do that, the rest will come along in time. That’s kind of what that song is about. We talked about this a little bit before, but I had almost resigned myself that [playing music professionally] was behind me, that maybe I could do some shows for fun from time to time. But over the course of making this record it became clear to me that I still know how to make a song work. Whether this is a thing I get to do on a larger scale remains to be seen, but I was able to prove to myself that I can still put a good song together, even when I’m not up for five straight days.
An article in Glide mentioned that you’re training to be an addiction counselor. Is there some sense of duty there? Have you become more zealous about “the program” and living clean? Maybe a little of both?
It’s a little of both. I have certainly become more zealous about making sure that people who deal with mental health and/or addiction issues – especially younger people – have someone they can talk to without feeling judged or dictated to.
The name of your band, as you mentioned, has political overtones, and there are some references to current events on the album. But you didn’t lose your mind and start bashing people over the head with your opinions, like so many artists have done since 2016. Why do so many folks make everything about politics?
When I wrote these songs, one of the things I tried really hard to do was invite people into a conversation rather than dictate to them how they should feel about any given thing.
I really feel that’s a far more effective way to engage an audience, if you want to have that conversation. I have never responded to anybody – even when I agree wholeheartedly with what they have to say – addressing whatever they imagine their audience to be, by dictating what their thoughts or beliefs should be. That just doesn’t work for me, and when I wrote these songs I tried really hard to stay away from that. I wanted to ground it in narrative and open-ended conversation.
Yeah. It’s there, but it’s not preachy, and it’s open to interpretation. And believe you me it’s refreshing. Because I didn’t vote for the sumbitch, but I’ve had about a bellyful of being preached to by guys whose music I otherwise love.
Switching gears, redemption is certainly a theme running through From a White Hotel. How cathartic was this whole process, and where are you on the whole making-amends thing that started when you got out of the joint?
Well, in terms of the process being restorative, the making of the record – playing music with other people, being able to work on songs – was really, really healthy. And it was good to do it in a way that I didn’t have to feel like my life depended on whether people liked these songs. Obviously I wouldn’t have put the record out if I didn’t want people to hear the songs, but it’s not going to ruin my life if there’s a deafening thud when it’s released. I’m still gonna be married to this wonderful woman, I’m still gonna be helping people who struggle with mental health and addiction issues. At the end of the day, the act of making a record was rewarding in and of itself.
The amends thing? Well…the second you say you’re humble, you’re not.
Ha! I guess that’s true.
(Laughs) Yeah. I’ll just say I’m really proud of the work that I’ve done. I think I’m living out amends to people to whom I can’t make direct amends. I’ve worked really hard at doing a good job of that.
By the time this article runs you’ll have been married for about a week. Was Caitlin a part of your life before you went away? How big a part of your road back to normalcy has she been?
She was a part of my life. She wasn’t my girlfriend at that time, but she was part of a close group of friends. My girlfriend at the time was named Tracey, and she called Caitlin that night and said, “You’re not gonna believe this, but he’s gone. He’s going to prison, so can you come get his stuff out of my apartment?” So Caitlin went and got all of my stuff and took it to Goodwill in East Los Angeles. A lot of us had drastic changes in our lives around that time but we all stayed in touch for the most part. And Cait and I stayed in touch while I was locked up, and she’s been so supportive. She was never judgmental. It’s been one of the most positive things in my life – if not the most positive – to have that person with me every step of the way.
On the title cut you say, “I ain’t no kind of outlaw, and I never claimed to be.” The wit and irony are strong in you, Kasey Anderson.
(Laughs) Well, you know, that’s true. I never tried to market any of the records we ever made as any sort of “outlaw country” thing…
Oh, wait! Gosh, see, there’s so much irony I missed the irony. I was thinking in the literal sense, in that you’ve done time and technically are an outlaw.
(Laughs) I technically am an outlaw, and that’s kind of the point I wanted to make. It’s not all those artists’ fault that they’re being marketed and trumpeted that way. But a lot of times I’ll read an article about some “outlaw country” artist and think, “Man, I’ve actually been an outlaw and it sucks!”
You know, smoking weed doesn’t make someone an outlaw. My mom’s 65 and she’ll smoke weed and watch Netflix. That doesn’t make someone a badass. Figure out what you mean by “outlaw.”
Speaking of outlaws: Everybody’s favorite badass, Steve Earle, gets a nod on “Clothes Off My Back,” right down to the title of his 1996 post-prison album. I can understand why you could maybe not resist a tip of the ol’ driver’s cap; it’s just too perfect. But aren’t you afraid he might get a big head over it?
Um…no, I’m not. Because I think Steve knows how good he is. He’s far enough along in his career that he knows he’s revered by people who write songs.
Very diplomatic, by the way.
(Laughs) But the point of that song…Steve’s been sober for a long time now, and he’s done a really good job of living his life according to that. And so it’s an acknowledgement that I’m not anywhere near where this guy is as a songwriter, and certainly not in my recovery. But I’m certainly a lot better than I was five years ago.
Yeah. I was really hoping you’d rise to the bait there.
(Laughs) I can’t.
Also, just to clarify one comment: my issue with “Outlaw Country” isn’t with any of the artists, it’s with the folks who use it as an easy/“cool” way to market and categorize artists. I don’t know too many artists who are actively seeking that label. I know Sturgill and Aaron Lee Tasjan for sure have poked fun at it in the past. That kind of marketing and categorization, to me, draw attention away from how great artists like Sturgill and Margo Price and Elizabeth Cook and those folks are individually, and makes it into this one homogenous category. It’s counterproductive. Their work is great, so let it stand on its own.
Newlywed Kasey Anderson is on tour. Check dates here.
From a White Hotel is available everywhere today, including Kasey's site.