Country Songwriter John Moreland Cuts the Bullshit

Joey Kneiser
Singer-songwriter John Moreland uses his words wisely.
John Moreland makes his words count. His bluesy folk rock with a country twang resonates in the chests of listeners, partly because of his deep, raw voice, and partly because of his highly personal, honest lyrics.

And Moreland, who will be playing eTown on August 4 and the Larimer Lounge on August 5, is an honest man. For instance, when asked about whether the Oklahoma landscape of his home town of Tulsa influenced his music, he was straight up about it.

“If that really has any effect on the music you hear, it’s purely intuitive. It’s not something I’ve consciously ever thought about,” says Moreland. “Yeah, I don’t know. Sorry if that’s a boring answer.”

This to-the-point Midwestern honesty is also found in Moreland’s blues-heavy folk songs. Moreland says it comes from playing hardcore punk in high school.

“The thing in hardcore is to be really concise. You, know, short songs with no extra bullshit. You just say what you’re gonna say and get out. That’s the same thing I try to do with my songs now. They’re a little longer — three or four minutes instead of one minute — but I still try to keep all the essential stuff in there and nothing extra.”

As Moreland shifted to his current sound, that approach came in handy, especially playing among other talented Oklahoma singer-songwriters like John Fullbright and Evan Felker.

“There happen to be a lot of really good songwriters from this area,” says Moreland. “So coming up in the same scene as the rest of them was always kind of a challenge. You had to really bring your best material.”

Another factor in Moreland’s songwriting is his diverse array of musical influences, which range from Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty to Levon Helm and Randy Newman.

In May, Moreland released Big Bad Luv, an album that’s received critical acclaim and has seen increased popularity. Perhaps it’s because people are finally catching on, or perhaps it’s because Big Bad Luv is slightly less tear-jerking and more accepting of the pain inherent in the blues than Moreland's previous records, like 2016's High on Tulsa Heat and 2013's In the Throes.

This shift in tone might also have something to do with his new wife, Pearl. After all, his songs are personal.

“The objective — always — is to just make music that feels relevant to me at that time in my life,” says Moreland. “Of course she was a big influence on the record, because she’s the biggest part of my life right now.”

This doesn’t mean that his songs can’t have implicit commentary on current events as well.

“Personal stuff is kind of a microcosm of the bigger picture,” says Moreland. “You inevitably touch on some of the bigger social things without meaning to. I think that’s all part of it.”

Moreover, the lyrics Moreland writes are open to differing interpretations. “It Don’t Suit Me (Like Before)” is a song that some might interpret as being political, but to him, it’s solely personal.

“That was written after a conversation with my wife about when you develop defense mechanisms that maybe aren’t the healthiest things but that help you cope with times in your life,” says Moreland. “It can be a struggle to leave that stuff be — to leave the past in the past.”

For Moreland, the notion that songs can have different meanings to different people is important.

“I definitely don’t want to say too much. I want to leave it open to interpretation. I think that songs are more powerful when each listener can make them mean whatever they mean to them.”

John Moreland with Phoebe Hunt, 7 p.m. Friday, August 4, eTown, 1535 Spruce Street, Boulder, 303-443-8696.

John Moreland with Christian Lee Hudson, 9 p.m. Saturday, August 5, Larimer Lounge, 2721 Larimer Street, 303-296-1003.