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If somebody came along, like, ‘Hey, man, we really like what you’re doing and we wanna support you, and you can have total control and do whatever you want,’ I’m gonna be like, ‘Cool, high-five.’ But until that happens, why would I do that? ●
- – Sturgill Simpson on courting major labels.
For me, it came down to the fact that Buck and Merle wrote their own songs. There weren’t tons of guys that wrote their own songs here [in Nashville]. There was Hank Williams obviously, and Willie [Nelson] – although his popularity came much later. The majority of artists here had songwriters who wrote for them. I’ve always felt that, whether it was James Taylor or Roy Orbison, when they wrote their own songs they could make those melodies really suit what they did best. When you think about the way Buck sang and the way Merle sang, those songs were tailor made. I think therein lies the biggest difference with that collection of songs, and history would bear that out in a big way, especially with Merle’s legacy. With Buck, being on Hee Haw and then the death of Don Rich and a few other things sort of slid him on a different path than Merle. But early on, writing his own songs and doing what he did, it was pretty powerful. Unstoppable, really. ●
- – Vince Gill on the Bakersfield difference.
It’s inspired me to sort of look at everything in a fresh way. Like, you don’t have to do this for the money. You don’t have to do anything. You can just go and sort of bounce off the walls until the cows come home, and if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work, but you’ve done something for you. If you want to have chill bumps, do shit that you don’t understand. Dig into your heart’s desire. Dig into fun. Dig into joy, and don’t let self-consciousness or what you know can get you a paycheck take precedence. ●
- – Patty Griffin on making a life in music.
You have to unlearn what you’ve been told about songwriting. I wouldn’t want to hear it any other way than how it really is. Every time I get stuck, I think: ‘How would [singer-songwriter] John Prine say this?’ He wouldn’t try to make this sentence sound beautiful. He’d just say, there’s a glass of water sitting on the table. And it would work. ●
- – Kacey Musgraves.
You know what it is? You can sit on the bus and sing [“Hope on the Rocks”] to two or three people who have never heard it, and they’ll just get goose bumps and go, ‘Damn, that’s powerful.’ But you start playing it to a twenty-something audience, and it’s like, ‘Naw, man, there ain’t no mud on that tire. That ain’t about a Budweiser can. That ain’t about a chicken dancing out by the river. That ain’t about smoking a joint by the haystack. That’s about somebody dying and sh-t.’ ●
- – Unexpectedly, Toby Keith is finding it hard to relate to the newest generation of country fans.
You hear the hip-hop thing start kicking in, and you start going, ‘Is that what we gotta do now to have a hit?’ I don’t know how to do that. Is that what I need every one of my songs to sound like now? But . . . I’m not going to change much. And when it quits working, I’ve got other stuff to do. ●
- – “I Wanna Talk About Me” singer Toby Keith.
It’s not the kind of place you’re going to walk in and see posters of top-40 artists. I think they sign people that they like. I don’t think labels have ever been able to really do that because they have a bottom line to meet. Everybody at Thirty Tigers seems like a music fan first and foremost to me. I think they’re more interested in putting out good material than hobnobbing with rock stars or making money. ●
- – Jason Isbell on Thirty Tigers, in a nice Tennessean feature on the non-label that considers itself a “service company” for musicians. Among the albums Thirty Tigers has been working this year: Jason Isbell’s Southeastern and Sturgill Simpson’s High Top Mountain.
I can’t teach at those songwriting workshops because I wouldn’t know what to tell people who are trying to write. I’d just say, ‘Sit down and do it,’ and that’s not what people want to hear. I know when songwriting, for me, doesn’t work, but I don’t know why it works and I don’t know how it works. Music’s really mysterious, and I don’t ever even count on it working at all. I just hope it does. ●
- – Patty Griffin to Peter Cooper.
Right or wrong, I hit Nashville and did some pop songs. I worked with Lionel Richie and Barry Gibb. But I feel like I drew a lot of people to country music who wouldn’t have gone there without me. Country music couldn’t ever understand that not everybody’s history goes back to Hank Williams. For a lot of people, it starts with Alabama or Dolly. And now it starts with Taylor Swift. That’s healthy for country music. I think I took a lot of flak for taking country pop, but I broadened the audience. Country has always been too country for a lot of people. ●
- – Kenny Rogers.
We’ve always had one or two tempo songs, but I always felt like those were the songs that never got mentioned as single possibilities. This time I wanted to make a concerted effort to record them. I think the tempo is what shows the biggest difference from the last record. That’s evidenced not only with this record being geared more toward my live show, but also showing the difference in my songwriting, especially with that first single [“Aw Naw”]. ●
- – Chris Young on
selling his soul gearing songs toward his live show.
Country brodown: Every truck, beer, jeans, moonlight, and ‘girl’ reference on the current chart ●
- – EW’s Grady Smith with a less revealing version of the Nashville Scene’s “Breakdown of the Lyrical Content of Billboard’s Top 20 Country Songs” from last month.
I joke with people. I had a buddy of mine ask how I’m doing on that radio tour. I said, “Well I kind of feel like I’ve won the lottery. I get to travel around and eat free steak dinners. I usually play three songs and see new places. It’s kind of like what I would do if I won the lottery.” ●
- – Know how we are occasionally called upon to be impressed by the ‘grind’ of endless radio station visits that singers endure in the early part of their careers, in order to build relationships with the industry’s movers and shakers? Chris Stapleton says it’s not so grueling.
There is a lot that I like. There is a girl named Brandy Clark that’s kind of new. She’s a really good singer-songwriter gal that’s country. I like Kacey Musgraves quite a bit. There are a lot of good gals coming out lately that are great songwriters. They are fun to listen to. Other than that, it’s what I usually listen to. I’m a huge Tom Petty fan, so he’s always hanging around. I don’t know. I guess a little bit of everything. ●
- – What’s Chris Stapleton listening to? Brandy Clark and Kacey Musgraves, of course.
I really don’t know what to say. I guess I just can’t stand that bigger-than-life, good ol’ boy kind of country music. It’s all pretty cheesy if you ask me. Whenever I accidently come across any nationally recognized music, it turns my stomach pretty much. All the videos are sexed up with people just trying to push buttons and get people all riled up. I have a friend who writes for a living in Nashville, and he tells me that last season it was all about banjos and now it’s all about tailgates and trucks. He tells me you got to hit those notes if you ever want to get your song cut. I mean, c’mon.
I mean, don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the craft, and sometimes you can just tell that if a particular song had been done acoustically, it could have worked. There are well-crafted songs out there. I don’t know. Let’s just say I am very comfortable being on the tiniest little fringe of country music these days. ●
- – Slaid Cleaves on mainstream country.
That’s the great thing about being a songwriter is that escape. When you’re writing a song, you’re writing a part for someone to play. Being the artist on this record, I get to play these parts. Nobody wants to play a boring or vanilla part. Everybody wants to play the rocky road, or more interesting part. If I just wrote about my own life, I’d write boring songs. I’m really drawn to things that are going on in other people’s lives. Some of my characters are composites – with a couple of people in there. I love doing that. ●
- – Brandy Clark, offering a counterpoint to the “I write/sing what I know” line trotted out by the likes of Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line to justify endless songs about the same damn topics. As if there’s no room for imagination or getting outside oneself in the practice of songwriting.
To make money and keep your job, you have to have songs on the radio. Well, what do people want on the radio? The majority want uptempo stuff for when people are driving around. Unless I have an idea like ‘The House That Built Me,’ I’m trying to write something fun and uptempo. It’s easier for me to write slower songs, but the reality is those are harder to get recorded. ●
- – Luke Laird on writing for radio.
I don’t need a quiet place to work. I’ve been known to write songs in the carpool line, in line at the deli, while people are writing other songs, or even while someone is actually standing in front of me and talking to me. Thankfully I have not yet started writing songs while in the midst of performing other songs, but it’s probably just a matter of time (laughs). ●
- – Kristian Bush on writing everywhere.
There may or may not be an index card in my grandmother’s handwriting in a safe deposit box somewhere in Atlanta. ●
- – Kristian Bush on his family’s baked bean recipe.
Stray Observation: 7/10 of GAC’s top videos this week are by singers who first entered the public consciousness via stints on reality singing competition shows.