Yes. I’m very proud of the record and I think it is my best one yet. I feel like with each record I have been becoming a better songwriter and singer, and I am getting better at arranging the band and getting tones in the studio. I’ve been producing records more and more for other bands and artists and those experience have definitely helped me see my own stuff differently.
2.0 First songs always set a tone, why did you choose to kick off the record with “California Wildflower” for instance?
I like starting records off with something uptempo and this one I think sets a real sunny California style tone. It is a pretty eclectic album but I am glad that the starting point is this one with some Byrds influenced 12 string guitar and big harmonies – and it always goes over really well live.
3.0 – Did you feel the reception of your last release Poor Man’s Paradise raised the bar for this record at all?
Yes. My last two records, Divisadero and Poor Man’s Paradise, have gotten more and more good press and have both opened up doors for me to tour. With Divisadero I was able to get to tour in Europe for the first time. I did some shows with Rosie Flores and then with Gary Louris and Marc Olson. So with each year and each record I have been to more cities and more countries. I have a pretty high standard for myself to be happy and proud of what I’m working on. And when you know other people are listening it becomes a factor too.
Each song is different. Some songs start with a single line or an idea. Some songs are born from a chord progression or a melody. Aces and Eights started as a talking blues Jerry Reed country tune and then as I started thinking about recording it, I felt that making it funkier would help the bounciness of the rhythm in the lyrics and make it more playful. I have been a huge Delbert McClinton fan for a long time. He has been a real inspiration to me in the way he can walk the line and really be both country and soul at the same time. So I took that inspiration and ran. The icing on the cake was having Angelo Moore from Fishbone play saxes on it. I was a huge Fishbone fan in high school and college and meeting him and having him play on my record was a truly great experience. (Down at the) Seventh Heaven was one that actually started as a short story. As it evolved into a song, it had really long verses and I got excited about having a song where the drums drop out in the verses and come back in the choruses to keep it moving and interesting. I have never done that before on a record. So I combined it with my love of the horns on The Last Waltz, then I added pedal steel to it to keep it a little more country. The story of the song just led the way.
5.0 – Are all the songs on Back To The Land new or are there some old riffs that became newbies?
Most are new. But I tend to record 4 or 5 songs at a time rather than wait to record a whole record at one time so there are different songs from 3 or 4 different session. “Time Is a Joker” and “Bottles On The Table” were actually recorded for the last record, Poor man’s Paradise. I really loved them as songs but they didn’t fit with the other songs on that record in terms of their mood, so I really wanted to build this next record around them to help get them out into the world. “(Down at the) Seventh Heaven” was another of the first songs done for this record so it really became a centerpiece as I was planning the record in my head. Then I got on a real Dwight Yoakam kick so I wrote and recorded a bunch of more classic country sounding songs. That brought me back to living in L.A. – and one of the reasons I moved here is because of all the music I love that was made here. Then with “California Wildflower” and the song “Get Back To The Land,” which is about the L.A. music scene, I had the idea to go with a real sunny Southern California image and the palm trees on the album cover.
6.0 – Is song writing something one needs to practice to get good at?
Yes. Hopefully with every batch of songs you get a little better. I am a real believer in editing and I think a lot of people stop when a song is simply good: reworking, rewriting and experimenting simply helps make a song deeper.
7.0 – Do you have a philosophy when it comes to touring?
I try to do 2 weeks of touring a month and then be home for 2 weeks a month. Then I can keep playing locally and producing. And now that we are taking an extended break with Shooter Jennings, I am out playing in different regions every month. It feels good to be spreading the word. When you make the choice to play original music, you simply have to tour. Thankfully I have a pretty bohemian spirit and I love the traveling and exploring.
8.0 – How is the spring tour going? how was Martyr’s in Chicago?
This spring tour is going very well. It is the cd release tour too. I am just finishing up a Midwest run that started in Nashville and worked it’s way north to Minneapolis – 12 shows in 12 days. Tonight is my last show of the trip. I have toured this part of the country with Shooter numerous times but never on my own. It is definitely a step down in terms of smaller venues and no tour bus, but I am really proud to be out on my own and getting my music out there. I am constantly amazed by the music lovers in this world. It seems we are a minority but people really are looking for good music and when they find something they love, they really do spread the word. It has been really inspiring to see the support I have been getting, and fans and friends who really loved some of my older records that are very excited to see me live for the first time and get my new record. And Martyrs’ was a great show. It’s a great club. I did that night with an old friend of mine Ted Wulfers from Chicago. We have written a bunch of songs together and have played and sung on each others’ records so it was great to do some shows together finally. We called those shows the “Ted and Ted” tour. I have also wanted to play Martyrs’ for years because there’s a great Chris Whitley record ‘live at Martyrs’ and he is a musician and artist who is one of my favorites.
9.0 – What tracks from the new disc are you doing live, does it vary?
It changes from night to night, but I am doing a bunch of the new ones. California Wildflower is one. If I Had A Dollar, which has an old school Bakersfield sound, goes great acoustically or with the full band so I have been doing that a lot. I have been doing Lonelytown, which I wrote with Ted. It is a classic California country rock tune with a real strummy Byrds influence. We were both playing at the Sturgis Motercycle Festival a few years ago so we started writing that one about small town life. Aces and Eights is another. It’s a real southern soul tune on the record and live it has taken on a J.J. Cale kind of vibe. It’s been nice to add the new songs to the set gradually to keep the set list changing so people are not seeing the same songs every time they come to see me play. Changing up the set also keep me on my toes.
10.0 – You are allowed to send one TRK tune in a capsule to the far reaches of outer space, which song makes the trip?
From this record it would be “(Down at the) Seventh Heaven.” I am a real sucker for the Guy Clark style short-story-within-a-song type of song and that is mine for this new record. I love the rockers and the southern soul tunes, but the storytelling and talking about living is really what moves me in songwriting. From the Poor Man’s Paradise record, it would be “Let Love Do The Rest.” It really captures a mood and has an honesty and vulnerabitliy to it. That is one of the only songs I do at literally every gig I do.