Thank you for talking with us and congratulations on your forthcoming LP, Tennessee Alabama Fireworks! Can you tell us a little about it and how the title came about?
You bet and thanks a ton for your time and ears on the new album. The album title comes from a regional fireworks superstore chain called Tennessee Alabama Fireworks that had an epic road-side sign on I-24 West between Chattanooga and Nashville. The Tennessee Alabama Fireworks sign appeared like a huge southern gothic effigy as your rounded the bend and started up the Cumberland Plateau. It was surreal, cosmic and comic as hell in an odd, soulful way. I’d been back and forth between Athens, Georgia and Nashville more times than I can count since I began working as a songwriter in Nashville in ’05 and scores of times during the period I wrote the album, when my life was falling apart just as I was becoming a little bit successful as a troubadour.
It’s a pretty personal metaphor I suppose, but I don’t I don’t think I’m the only one who got a big kick out of the Tennessee Alabama Fireworks sign and thought it was something special and weird. Â Â Â Â Â Â Â
Nashvilleâ€™s â€œWelcome to 1979â€ Studio seemed like a natural choice for you when it came to recording this LP. Can you tell us how it was recording there? Recording at “Welcome To 1979″ Studio was a powerful creative experience. Chris Mara setup that great two story building real cool and smart with all it’s different rooms, and ’79 a great collection of outboard gear along with that excellent sounding MCI console with API mic-pres. Everything’s completely accessible and useable, a collection of vintage mics, vintage wurlys & B-3s, a cool collection of guitar amps, all of it ready to go and execute any idea you might have at a moments notice. But it ain’t just about the gear. Everything about ’79 Studio is setup to be conducive to lightning striking and capturing it. Â
Was deciding to work with producer Noah Shain an easy choice?
Well, Noah and I decided the strategy and approach of the new album, while we were recording “Sea Of Lights” a year and a half before at his studio in Los Angles. For the new album Noah wanted to come to Nashville and use my live band to record at Welcome To 1979 rather than recording at his LA studio with an all-star band. So we had an ongoing two year long dialog about recording Tennessee Alabama Fireworks. I sent Noah cell phone clips of new sounds I was making with the band, we listened to root influences on vinyl, a bunch of Muscle Shoals records, A/B’d old Waylon records, Tom Dowd records, listened to Atlanta Rhythm Section, Eddie Rabbit, Jerry Reed and Thinn Lizzy records, discussed the fact that neither of us are interested in nail-on-the-head retro-production, but prefer to use those elements to inform a modern work, technically and emotionally. So working with Noah has history back for me to ’06 when he produced a couple tracks on my first Americana album, Bad News Travels Fast in 2010. Noah’s been like an old school shaman type producer to me, helping me get rid of ghosts and pushing me to dig deeper and find something better. Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â
It has already received a lot of praise in the media, that must feel pretty special?
Heck yeah, it’s wonderful to know that we’re not completely crazy, but at least if we are there’s a pretty good bunch of us the same kind of crazy, haha. It’s humbling and moving as hell to see people connecting with the songs, the band and the sound.
What’s a song you may have written â€˜just for you,’ on it, but has had a lot of response from listeners?
Some people are letting us know about “We Ain’t Got The Good.â€ The way that song started, I was on skype cooking up an idea with my songwriting pard, Davy Ulbrich. He’d been going through it with his wife and had to cut the skype call short. He called back 35 minutes later from The Super 8 Motel room 121 and we wrote those first couple of the verses with the hook and title, and talked about needing a legato chorus. The next day I had a session with another writing pard, Travis Porterfield, and showed him the skype song. Travis and I wrote that pre-chorus and finished the verses before we had to split to a gig. The next time I saw Travis a couple days later it was finished with that cool chorus. Â
What is your favorite music to listen to while you cook?
I’d like to listen to The Highwaymen while I’m boiling a little head of cabbage with some Bear Creek pork chops in a skillet and another skillet of Sean Brock’s Heritage Cracklin’ Cornbread getting just a little burnt around the edges. I’d make the cracklin’s with hog jowl and I’d serve the meal with Junior Kimbro’s “Sad Days And Lonely Nights.â€
Any similarities between putting together a good meal and making a good record? Is drawing out flavors in ingredients like capturing sounds from instruments?
Yes, great parallel! Both endeavors involve technical knowledge and intuitive creation. It’s also widely accepted in both rock and roll and the culinary world, that limited technical knowledge doesn’t necessarily limit the quality of an experience. Maybe songs and arrangements are like recipes for me. I go in with a written plan and make decisions on the fly/improvise based on the way variables respond. So recording isn’t just documentation, it’s a combination of documentation and simultaneous actual real-time creation/composition. And yes, the right ribbon mic on an acoustic guitar might accent a track the way citrus brightens savory flavors. Â Â Â Â Â Â
When touring what’s your 3 Michelin star fast food restaurant… aka the one you will travel out of the way for?
Whataburger’s right at the top of the list for sure but ever since I played their grand opening in Nashville, Shake Shack’s been my favorite burger joint.
Aside from working on new music, do you have any other projects you are working on?
Well, “any other projects” is a real large loop to throw around it considering that James A. Willis and I’ve been developing a comic book/graphic novel idea for four years now. I’m having a blast collaborating with H Bar C Ranchwear. That’s my favorite vintage western wear company and it’s being revitalized, developed and brought back to life by my friend Rick Stahl. Rick and his team designed four western shirts based on vintage H Bar C Ranchwear shirts that my Grandfather gave me. Two of the shirts will be announced and released soon.
Whatâ€™s your advice for young artists trying establish a name for themselves?
If by artist you mean a working singer songwriter/troubadour that’s got an original sound and isn’t chasing a trend of some kind, then the first thing I’d ask ’em is, are you real damned sure that your absolutely head over heels in love with the craft of songwriting and being dedicated to your instrument, and willing to live week to week without any savings for extended periods, so that you can spend as much time as possible working on every aspect of the craft of songwriting, completely immersed in music, studying every part of it and most importantly, building a real solid catalog of songs? Â Â
If we got past that question, maybe I’d offer the famous advice William Burroughs gave Patti Smith, â€œBuild a good name. Keep your name clean. Donâ€™t make compromises. Donâ€™t worry about making a bunch of money or being successful. Be concerned with doing good work. And make the right choices and protect your work. And if you can build a good name, eventually that name will be its own currency.â€
Which three things are always in your home refrigerator?
Cabbage, kale or some kind of green, country ham or Conecuh sausage, and butter. Â Â
What would you do on a day off in Nashville, no work allowed?
If there’s a part of town you haven’t been to in a few weeks, chances are the skyline’s changed. So I kind of like to keep a running tab on things, drive across town, out to Franklin and maybe up to Donalson every once in awhile, just to see what all’s going on. Â Â Â
What excites you most about the Nashville music scene right now?
Nashville right now might be the one of the greatest convergences of musical talent the worlds ever seen. You know there was Vienna in the late 1700’s, Memphis in the 50’s, Muscle Shoals in the 60’s and 70’s, Los Angeles in the 70’s, NYC in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, and then there’s Nashville. These other cities have had heydays and reigns of influence while Nashville’s just been steady at it the whole time with the founding nucleus still intact kind of. So it’s not just that Nashville’s on damned fire right now, but that Nashville’s got this wealth of history and experience available first-hand. I didn’t ever get to meet Jerry Reed but I’ve got a few friends who were good buddies with Jerry and their stories about Reed, told in person carry more information than can be documented in any form, except maybe video. But still you get my point.
What are some of your favorite Nashville restaurants?
There are so many excellent restaurants in Nashville and I’ve only been to a hand-full. It’s no secret I’m crazy about Dino’s and brag about it every chance I get. I also made good friends with Shake Shake last year and played their Nashville opening. I love the Jalapeno taco sauce at 5 Points Tacos and Tenn Sixteen’s got a killer $6 small Caesar. I think the kitchen at Tree House is cutting-edge high-level and Husk is one of the most unique food experiences I’ve ever had. Â Â Â
In the South we love our potlucks, whatâ€™s your go-to dish to bring?
If it’s summertime I like to make a great big pico de gallo or chili in the winter. If I don’t have time to make something I’ll get Bolton’s or Popeye’s.
After playing a late show, what is your guilty pleasure food?
If we’re staying in town for the night, then I try to get something local. If it’s Texas then it’s brisket, if it’s the Gulf Coast then it’s seasonal catch and plenty of hushpuppies. If we have crawl back in the van and haul-ass then it might be something like Gummie Sharks.
If you could get on a plane tomorrow and travel to any destination just for its food, where would it be?
Wow, what a question. I’d probably try to tag along with my buddy Sean Brock to explore his favorite Japanese foods.