March 29, 2010
Posted: 02:44 PM ET
By Quinn Brown
(CNN) - Son of country music legends Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter, the 30 year old singer/songwriter has lived a life mercurial. He has fully embraced his father’s roots-country past (don’t even mention the term “outlaw country” to him) on the tribute album "Waylon Forever" and even portrayed his father in the Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line.
He has traveled well beyond the ‘country rock’ label into the heavy, southwestern metal stomp of Electric Rodeo. 2010 finds Jennings going even further from the man you thought you knew. Enter Black Ribbons, the new release with his new band dubbed Hierophant. As the name suggests, it’s an album of mystery and darkness (and even Stephen King).
Jennings and his band serve as interpreters so the listener can find some way to wade through the arcane nature of both Shooter himself and the times we are living in. Neither of which are easy. The recurring lyric on the title track – “lost in the night/no direction or a guiding light” – starts the journey on the album…but it doesn’t end there.
The lead single “Wake Up” starts with a dense, murky arrangement before bursting with a sonic crunch and the hopeful lyric “don’t let them get you down,” and its instrumentation going from early prog-rock Genesis to the grunge-y wallop of Alice in Chains or Mastodon. Ribbons is dark, to be sure, but the listener is not tied to the abyss (Jennings describes the message of the album as “positive…hopeful”).
The album is nowhere close to Waylon, and it’s an unexpected leap forward (and beyond the boundary) for Shooter. And for a musician who prides himself on taking chances, the unpredictable is the only thing that is predictable.
Shooter Jennings sat down with LKL blog just after the release of Black Ribbons to talk about what triggered the album, his break with his label and Nashville, and why Stephen King’s voice was in his head.
Brown: What was the initial moment of inspiration for this album?
Shooter: I had come to a head in my career with my old label. They came back to me and gave me a not-really-supportive pat on the back and said, “Well you know we’re going to chop budgets.” That was that. I was at a crossroads and I pretty intimidated a little bit.
I just had a daughter about 6 months before. My family and I were in New York and we were [ready to try something new]. So we rented an RV and migrated back to L.A. so I could start working on a record. When we hit the road the economy collapsed and there was a feeling of fear and loathing that was going on all over the place. No one was sure what was going to happen and it just became this big scare. I was in this RV with my family and we’re in the middle of the country and everything was really great inside the RV and everything outside was really scary and unknown. It was late night drives every night and I was listening to radio and there were different people talking about different kinds of [doomsday] scenarios. The police state and the global invasion of the banking system and how close we were to a position that could result in riots going on in Britain and France and all these places and just [complete] craziness. And it inspired me to dig a lot deeper into all the things I was hearing about and at the same time it made me really appreciate what I had. It made me realize how important my family was and the economy was the spark that inspired the message and story behind the record. By the time we got to LA I was in a completely different mindset. It took several months of [digging in to the story] but it definitely started there.
Brown: The album certainly has some darkness to it…
Shooter: But I think it’s hopeful. We painted this sort of dark scenario around everything but the message is kind of positive about you know hanging on to love and the things around you. Kind of like painting a wall black so when you paint a couple colors on it, it really stands out. I had been through an experience and the walls kind of crumbled around me and I was lucky enough to hold on to the friends that I have because when all that stuff goes away, the attention and whatnot goes away, you are left in a position of counting your losses and you [rely] on to the people that matter in your life.
Brown: One of my favorites on the album is ‘All This Could Have Been Yours.’ Who is that directed at?
Shooter: That is a song that I wrote about my experience in Nashville. I cut my first record without thinking that anyone in the country music world would ever embrace it. I just wanted to blend my love of that stuff with my love of the rock stuff and it took off in this way. By the end of it I was broke and it felt like I had been beaten down and about ten years had been drained from my life. And I felt like I kind of wrote down these lyrics and emotionally grabbed by how I felt. . It sounds like a breakup song and most people think it’s about a girl- and I [can see how that would] apply. But for me it was definitely directed at the people that never supported me to begin with and laughed at me when I left.
Brown: How important to you is the freedom to change styles? To go from a particular sound on one album to something drastically different on the next album?
Shooter: It’s really important but it’s a really scary endeavor in a way. For me its really not that different. A lot of people heard that record and have been like, man this is the kid I knew growing up. It was funny, when I was in Nashville I didn’t really care about country music. It was all around. I loved my parents’ music and I loved country music. But it was a combination of two things [in finding my sound]- getting to LA and then really embracing my roots to some degree. And the other part was I was growing up with the understanding that the beauty [is in] the lyrics and the emotions behind the songs, not a particular [style] of music. It’s about creating something and following your inspiration. I think if I had to cut another album to please expectations I think I would be uninspired doing it. I think [with this album] it was so much fun to be crazy. And playing the songs live next to the old material- it doesn’t sound so [drastically] different.
Brown: You have said it is the downfall of an artist if he tries to recreate something, specifically what Waylon did. How much of this record was a reaction to that?
Shooter: If anything a lot of it was inspired [by Waylon] and I always want to be inspired by him. You know once you put limits on music it’s time to quit. He was always trying to do something different. When I did a record when I was 16, he and I went to the studio and I was really into Ministry and Nine Inch Nails. So I built this industrial record to put these vocals on. He was really amped to try something like that. It’s weird because people have a preconceived notion of who my dad was. We’ve gotten a whole lot of really positive reactions from this record. There are a couple of [Waylon fans] who are angry about it. That is a disgrace to my dad. He was the guy who would embrace all this music. There’s a group of people I think were looking for me to be like the outlaw country thing. My dad never liked the term outlaw country and I never liked it. There’s never been outlaw country. There’s only so far you can go with something that’s already been done.
Brown: I have to ask about Stephen King. How did you get him involved as the narrator of the record?
Shooter: I knew he was a fan and I had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to try and reach out to him. It took me a long time to get a message to him and he was so cool and generous. Upon listening to the album he liked it and agreed to add [his spoken word parts]. One day I had a package on my doorstep with all the parts. I remember sitting in my studio one day thinking I can’t believe this. It just made me get the chills that he was so gracious to hear me out and do it.
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