I’ve been realizing lately that I talk so much about a childhood that I don’t really have a lot of memories of.
It was basically just the whole “home-schooled farm-life” narrative. I’ve tried to describe it for like, ten years, but it doesn’t really sum it all up. My family and I lived on a sustainable farm – we had cattle, horses, a garden, you know. We were weird and crazy and I was super-shy but super-motivated musically and creatively. So that’s how I interacted with people. I did dance lessons and tried to start a band in a town that had no people in it.
I’ve been realizing lately that I talk so much about a childhood that I don’t really have a lot of memories of. When you do interviews for ten years that are all sort of focused on the same part of your childhood, it’s weird and I have had some trauma, so my memories are sort of skewed. I guess I’ve just reached a point where I feel like I need to step away from it all.
That reminds me of the element of nostalgia in entertainment – there’s this sense of grabbing onto something from decades ago. Is that a normal thing to do, or do you think there’s something “off” about dredging up your high school tastes into art?
It’s probably a little bit of both. It doesn’t work for me. I certainly grew up listening to emo and have been listening to it again, lately, which is kind of weird. I think that’s why it’s got me in a weird headspace, because of all the nostalgia.
Which is fine, I think it’s part of accepting who you are – not to sound like an emo kid! I think it’s sort of a self-discovery thing, then you go back to living in that whole world and figuring out what you want to do now.
I’m all about authenticity, but half the people who are screaming and screeching and crying about authenticity don’t know what they’re talking about anymore.
I was raised in a small town in a small religious community myself. As I got a little older, I found myself suspicious of other kids who joined scenes, or cliques, or had very distinct ideological opinions. How do you feel about the culture of everything needing an opinion, all the time, with the requirement that entertainment be politicized? Are you into distinct viewpoints, or do you take a more all-encompassing view of the world?
I have always been very suspicious of people who get into one thing and won’t let go. Which is fine – I wish I had the capacity to be that passionate about one thing, rather than music. Music is the only thing I’ve focused on for a sustained period of time. But I also grew up with my dad, who’s super-political – he’s the “everything is political” person where anything that happens is this huge negative thing, like “The world sucks!”
So there are times where I’m like “Jesus, I can’t take this anymore,” but there are other times when I’m dealing with people who are so passive and don’t give a shit. Or worse, they’re just saying the same things everyone else is saying and making the jokes they saw on Twitter about politics, or using the same analogy from an Instagram meme – like everyone’s suddenly Bill Hicks or something. That gets frustrating. But obviously, it’s important to have an opinion and a mindset. I would probably prefer we live in a world where people are overly political than the opposite, I guess.
I understand your dad owned a country & western bar, where you figured out that style of music and made it your own. I was just thinking about how country has kind of permeated other musical styles over the years. It’s in top 40, it’s in R&B, and even acoustic guitar dudes sometimes put on airs of country-mouse authenticity. Do you take that in stride, or do you feel a responsibility to defend “true” country music?
No, I’m like the opposite! I left country music for that reason. I got so fucking tired of white guys arguing about whose hat is bigger or who has a better ranch. I’m all about authenticity, but half the people who are screaming and screeching and crying about authenticity don’t know what they’re talking about anymore. I don’t care. I grew up in the country and wrote songs that felt familiar to me because I just wanted to reconnect to my roots. That kind of music came out of me. But as soon as I started doing that, people were like “Oh, are you part of the new country thing?” And I’m like “I don’t even know what you’re talking about.”
It’s this really annoying thing where we’re always wondering who’s real and who’s not. People have called me “contrived” for years and I’m like “You know? I guess I am.” It’s really blanded down music for me when everyone wants to sing about the country roads and how hard it is to go on tour, like someone forced them to put on cowboy boots and live in a van.
God, he wouldn’t know what we’re talking about. And I love Hank Williams, what an amazing songwriter. But it’s not like he had the most admirable lifestyle that we should all emulate. I guess I’m feeling a little misanthropic today.
I recently reunited with my first real band, which I joined when I was eighteen. It’s nothing I notice now, but at the time I remember all the other members had seven or eight years on me, and were all on the cusp of starting careers and families while I was just a kid. That’s kind of how I’ve always been, which isn’t playing myself up – my best friends and romantic interests have all tended to be older than I am. I remember the first time I saw you play, in my California hometown opening for Drive-By Truckers. As a working songwriter in your mid-twenties, how do you process the age difference between yourself and those you choose to perform music with?
I guess I just fit there, mostly. Of course, there are times when I’m like “Hey, I really like this Menzingers record!” and everyone’s like “Ugh, my ears, stab them!” There are some things people don’t relate to, but for the most part, that’s always where I found myself musically and personality-wise. Certainly, when I was younger, I was a lot more of an asshole and a bit of an upstart. Being around older people has taught me a lot of humility, but there were also times when I completely lacked any confidence in myself. I got really tired of people constantly telling me I didn’t know what I was talking about, where I’d be like “I’m tired,” and someone would say “Oh, wait ‘til you’re foooorty-fiiive!” A lot of that gets old, but I guess I’ve found it a good place for me to be musically.
Can you describe your personality in three components – anger, joy and humor? How much of each do you have? Does that stay consistent, or could it be any mixture of the three depending on the day or hour?
It definitely changes a lot, because there’s rampant mental illness in my family. But humor would be number one for me, I think. A lot of the time, people think I’m being super angry but I actually just don’t know how to speak without making a joke.
I don’t know if I’d necessarily consider myself joyful all the time, but I’m definitely not as angry as I was in a certain point in my life. I’m also going through some serious transitional stuff right now. I just turned twenty-seven, and I wasn’t expecting to feel a super big shift, but I felt a lot more at peace. I lived in Ohio my whole life until a couple months ago, until I moved to North Carolina. I’m changing shit up. So, maybe that’s joy. I don’t know.
Pardon me if I’m dwelling on the past too much, but what was the first song you ever wrote? Can you describe it to me, no matter how great or embarrassing it was, and explain how I’d play it on a guitar myself?
I mean, when I was a kid, my brother and I would start bands in the living room that were awful. I know there’s a tape, and this is the first one I can remember hearing as an adult and thinking “Wow, I must have been the most annoying child.” But I was literally just playing open strings – I didn’t know any chords until I was thirteen – and singing about blurry vision and being lost. It’s the cheesiest thing ever. My parents listened to a lot of Led Zeppelin, so maybe I was trying to relate an acid trip I had never taken.
As far as the first actual song I wrote and finished that made any sense, it was called “Let Me Leave.” It’s on my first record, just a simple country song about hating the world or whatever.
I just don’t want music to get blanded down to where it’s all about one thing. It’s like a song is written every time a white guy reads a headline.
What is your relationship like with these three substances – coffee, alcohol and prescription medication? Do you have experiences with these, and if so, can you tell me a story in regard to each one?
I started drinking coffee when I was super young, because I wanted to be like my older siblings. That’s my experience there. I was nine and drinking black coffee, and I’ve been drinking it black ever since. Trying to be cool.
Alcohol…ugh. What do I not have an experience with there? My relationship with it is changing a lot. I think I spent so long being out of control that it’s been interesting to take back some sort of control over that… enjoying being my actual self. Not to go too dark.
I’m not much of a prescription drugger. Lots of family members have had struggles with that. I’ve got a crazy Trump relative who’s addicted to Xanax, which should make you relaxed, but she recently pulled a gun on someone. She also went on a huge Internet rampage against me when I said that I hated Trump, and she went on an online campaign to get me banned from music, or whatever. She told Rolling Stone I was racist or something. So, yeah, don’t do drugs, kids.
Please tell me what you want out of music, in as much detail as possible. What should the world desire or demand from music that it currently doesn’t?
Honestly, a melody. It’s really been bothering me how, especially in pop music which I love, it’s so amelodic lately. I don’t know about authenticity, but maybe it could benefit from a little dose of reality. Everything’s often from the same perspective. And then people say they want “edginess”, so someone puts out a song about smoking a joint and they’re like “This is amazing! That kid should win a Grammy, it’s so edgy!” I’m not really asking people to be shocking, I just think everything gets really stale. I’m not going to call anyone specific out, because I hate when people do that too.
But so much of what people think is gritty or cutting-to-the-core really isn’t. I guess I’m trying to demand that of myself as well, because I think there are a lot of things I’ve been shying away from writing about, personally. But really, I just want shit to be catchy, and nothing is lately!
It’s interesting that you mention that. I feel like in entertainment, we’re almost demanding that everything be dark. We want gloomy ‘80s songs. We want the gritty reboot of that movie. And if someone does a record, it’s got to be sold as dark and political.
I’m not writing a Trump record. Especially in the way I was raised. My dad was always anti-everything, so it’s not news to me that the world is fucked up. But everyone’s like “Yeeeeah, I wrote this suuuper-political song.” It’s like a song is written every time a white guy reads a headline. I just don’t want music to get that blanded down to where it’s all about one thing. It’s like, where were you guys when I needed you, telling me I don’t really get cat-called or my assault was fake, etc.? Yet all these white guys are writing songs like “Oooh / We need to beee there for people and help them!”
It’s not that I don’t think anyone should write things like that, or try. Just being inundated with all of it at once is harsh. Okay, your song sucks, but I’m glad your heart’s in the right place, I guess.
Curated by: Morgan Enos
Conducted by: Phone
Published: September 20, 2017
Total questions: 11
Word count: 2155
Reading time: Eight minutes
Super-political songs: Questionable
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