Shooter Jennings on making the most country album of his career, Family Man, in New York
It's a bit ironic that Shooter Jennings (due at Toby Keith's I Love This Bar & Grill on Friday, May 4), the son of country singers Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter, would make what he calls his "most country record to date" in New York. But that's essentially what happened. Shortly after moving to New York from Los Angeles, Jennings started writing songs in the Big Apple and recorded tracks in SoHo for what would become Family Man, released last March on Entertainment One.
While the album marks the first time Jennings took the creative process entirely into his own hands -- he produced the album -- he also surrounded himself with a new band, the Triple Crown, which includes old friend and well-respected jazz keyboardist Erik Deutsch. Jennings has done his share of hell-raising in the past, and while Family Man finds him in a more heartfelt role, he wasn't afraid to include rockers, too. We spoke with Jennings about life in New York and about his forthcoming album, The Other Life, due in late September.
Westword: How do you like living in New York now?
Shooter Jennings: I've been traveling back and forth a lot. It's funny because right now my family is in California. I love it. Every time I came here, I was always an outsider a little bit. This time around was the first time I felt like that I was really going to put down roots here. I kind of made a step. The producer I was working with in L.A. moved to Nashville. All my friends moved away, and so I knew I was going to do a new record and probably put together a new band and produce the record myself.
So it was kind of like a step in the direction of new territory, but I was ready for it, man. I was excited to make a change. I don't know; it's like the minute I got here and started meeting some of these players and meeting some of these dudes, I just realized how beautiful of a roots scene there is here, much more than in L.A. There's a lot of history here, and people like Ryan Adams have really opened this town up and created this... it's not only them, but having that in the modern history of it all has really kind of opened up the roots world here. I don't know how to explain it, but it's awesome, man. I'm really happy about it.
Has living there rubbed off on your songwriting at all?
It has, definitely. I think when I was writing this record, I was also listening to a lot of Harry Nilsson. You know, he's a Brooklyn kid. I think it definitely influenced the kind of dreaming I did -- I think for sure. I think living in the city definitely affects it.
Did you write most of the new album while you were in New York?
I think I wrote all of it in New York. Yeah, I definitely did. I'm kind of backtracking through all of the songs. It was all written in the period since I got here. I was kind of all over the place in this area for parts of it, but it was all after I kind of migrated here. It was weird -- I was listening to a lot of this guy named Steve Young. I don't know if you know him, but he wrote "Lonesome, On'ry and Mean" and "Seven Bridges Road," and he wrote all these incredible songs.
As a singer-songwriter and an artist, he's kind of obscure, but as a writer he had a lot of sense. I came here in September of 2010, and I'd just become friends with Steve Young, and we started e-mailing back and forth. His music was a big inspiration. We were talking a lot about New York and songwriting and stuff like that, and at the time, I was steeped in that and John Prine and Harry Nilsson. That was kind of the trifecta at the time.
It kind of changed my mind around a little bit so when I got here I really started writing songs on acoustic, which is not how I ever really did it. I mean, previously I wrote from more of rock and roll mindset, but some songs were written on acoustic. But this time every single song was written on an acoustic and demo-ed out. I never did anything like that before. It's a different approach in a different town. I'm kind of out of my comfort zone in kind of every way - a new band, I'm producing it myself, new everything. It kind of allowed me to kind of to create a little different of a persona.
You've talked about how Family Man was your most country record to date, which I though was kind of funny, since you wrote it all in New York.
And it was all recorded in New York. You know, it is strange, but hell, shit happens in weird spots. Jon Graboff, who's played in the Cardinals and stuff, said, "Let me give you some advice. Just don't tell anybody that you recorded in New York with New York players." I was like, "No, man. See, that's the whole thing. We're doing something different. We're not Steve Earle. We're not rolling out with some liberal politics record.
I mean, I love Steve Earle. I'm not reducing him to that, but you know what I'm saying. This is a pretty traditional country record that we recorded in New York. The statement that I think that should come out of that is that it doesn't matter where you are. Country music is about country music. There are people that I've met in New York City who are bigger rednecks than I've ever met in my entire life. It's like outside of New York, just off the island, and you're in white-trash town.
I thought it was cool that you have Erik Deutsch, who's more of a jazz player and a longtime friend of yours, on the record.
We knew each other as little kids and hadn't really gotten together in a long time. We hadn't really hung out in almost twenty years. We actually got together and hung out. I don't know, it was really magical. Him and I got together and we did a gig, just the two of us. For both of us, we just felt like, "Wow, we're really clicking here." Him, me and [bassist] Jeff [Hill] are the real tight posse when it comes to touring, but Erik and I, it's kind of like of my right-hand man with this whole thing.
I'm really glad he gets brought up in almost every interview because he is just such an incredible talent, and he's responsible for me putting this band together and the way it went down, because he kind of took me into his New York world. I assembled the band out of his gene pool of people, and so I'm really lucky to have him playing and having him on the record. We have a second record coming out in late September. We cut fifteen songs when we went in and the other five are going to go on that record, and we've recorded some more material for it, so we're off to the races. It's an exciting thing.
Is the next record tied into Family Man at all?
It's kind of like a flip of a coin in a way. The sound is the same. It was recorded at the same place. Some of these songs are the best songs between the two records. It was really obvious when we were looking at all the material what belongs on Family Man, and what belonged on The Other Life, which is the name of the other record. It's a darker record, for sure, than Family Man. I think the perception put forth with Family Man might be locked a little bit with The Other Life, but in a good way. I'm challenging the listener to go through a very wide range of emotions, I think.
Follow Backbeat on Twitter: @westword_music
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.