If you’ve heard any of Jason Eady’s past albums, you already know that he can be a devastatingly good writer and performer in styles ranging from narrative country-folk to propulsive, rhythmic gospel and blues.
With stylistic fusion seemingly so central to his musical approach – only natural for a Mississippi-born singer-songwriter in Texas – you wouldn’t expect to see him settle down in any one genre long enough to, say, create one of the best honest-to-god country albums in recent memory.
Well, the man’s full of surprises.
We caught up with Eady in the middle of a busy release week to discuss his approach to making AM Country Heaven, the demographics of mainstream country, and the thrill of singing with Patty Loveless.
Besides answering our questions, Eady was also nice enough to fill us in on what’s playing in his own personal AM country heaven. You can find his song recommendations in the playlist sidebar below.
Your last album had more of a Mississippi gospel and blues flavor to it, but this one’s quite Texan. Why was the time right for an old-school country record?
Two reasons: First, I have personally reconnected with classic country music in the last few years as a listener and a fan and it’s where the heart and soul of my writing and performing has been. So in a way I didn’t really have a choice if I wanted to be true to myself.
Secondly, I feel like it’s time. It seems like people, myself included, are ready to hear those sounds again. It’s something that has been missing from mainstream country for a while, with a few obvious exceptions, and I think people are really hungry for it. We just made a record that we wanted to hear ourselves.
Many of these songs were written with a younger, more progressive generation of Texas singer-songwriters, but when it came time to record you enlisted [Austin honky-tonk supergroup] Heybale as your studio band. From the outside looking in, this seems like a collision of two different worlds of Texas music. Was bridging that gap a conscious decision on your part?
In a way, it was. We all love this music. Everyone that I know loves to play this type of country music and I was amazed at how eager everyone was to write these kinds of songs.
I wanted this to be a fresh album lyrically. I wanted the record to sound classic, but I still wanted the songs to be relevant to anyone today. I think everyone who was involved in the writing of these songs felt the same way, so that’s what we tried to do – just write honest songs.
But when it came time to record we definitely wanted the best of the best at [creating] that sound, and we wanted to bring in players who have spent their lives making this music in order for it to be as authentic as possible. I’m extremely happy with the way both sides of that came together so seamlessly.
One thing that makes this record feel like a throwback is that the songs seem written from a place of middle age, which isn’t the case with most of what’s on FM country radio right now. In fact, this reminds me more of the stuff Merle was doing in the ’70s. Why do you think modern country music shies away from material of this sort?
I have no idea why they shy away from it. The only thing I can think of is demographics. It seems like there’s this movement toward youth in country music and a lot of those themes don’t connect with people who haven’t lived them yet.
I’m not saying that there isn’t a place for youth in country music because there definitely is. But that shouldn’t be all that there is. Country music used to be something that you grew into, a next step out of pop music, for adults living through real-life issues. Now they seem to be trying so hard to be pop themselves that they have forgotten to grow up.
A standout is “Man on a Mountain,” the bluegrass song with Patty Loveless. How’d that collaboration come about? What did Patty bring to the track?
Five minutes after we wrote that song, we said that it would be perfect if Patty Loveless would sing it. We never even thought of anyone else. I took the song to [my producer] Kevin Welch and told him that and he took it from there. I never in a million years thought that would actually happen. For the rest of my life, I will consider that one of the coolest things I have ever had happen.
She brought that song to life. She interpreted it exactly the way it was meant to be and she sang the hell out of it. There is no way that song could have gone any better. She absolutely nailed it.
Last question. AM Country Heaven is being billed as a country album, yet it includes no songs by country legend Gary Floater. Please explain yourself.
We tried to cut a few Gary Floater songs, but he threatened to sue us if we did. His exact words were “if I ain’t singing them then no one is.” I think all of this tribute business has made him a little jealous.
Video: The Vision Behind AM Country Heaven