A Conversation With Shooter Jennings
The acclaimed country artist and son of Waylon discusses his sixth album, 'The Other Life.'
Photography: Courtesy James Minchin III
Cowboys & Indians: Five of the songs from your new album (out now on Black Country Rock/Entertainment One Nashville) came out of the original sessions for your 2012 album, Family Man. What made you want to hold on to certain ones and release them later?
Shooter Jennings: They were recorded in 2011 in New York. We’d recorded, like, 15 songs for the Family Man record. At the time I was just going to put it all out, but a friend of mine who knows what he’s talking about told me I needed to split it in two. As I [began] listening to everything, I realized that, thematically, there were two sides. Really, my favorites from those sessions were the songs that ended up on this new record. It’s darker. There were a lot more positive messages and lyrics on Family Man.
C&I: You also included in The Other Life your previously released song “Outlaw You,” which tells your dad’s story of fighting the Nashville establishment and urges new artists to be true to themselves.
Jennings: We put that out as a single in 2011 and shot a video and everything. When writing it, I’d read a lot about these dudes in the business copping the term “outlaw,” and I was getting sick of the term anyway. They’re recycling it in an annoying way, and there’s a whole generation that doesn’t know why the original outlaws were called that and deserved the name. My dad and Willie [Nelson] and others changed the Nashville system by just working hard and bucking it. It was something I felt I had to say, and we put it in this record because it vibes with the rest of the songs.
C&I: Some of the best moments come from collaborations: There’s a beautiful duet with Patty Griffin, “Wild and Lonesome.” How did that come about?
Jennings: I didn’t know her beforehand, but there was a series of Waylon tribute albums in the last few years, and she’d done a song on one of them with Kris Kristofferson. I loved her voice, so I reached out to her to do this song. She recorded her vocals, and she sent them back. Same kind of thing with Scott H. Biram, who’s with me on “The White Trash Song” and Jim “Dandy” [Mangrum] on “15 Million Light-Years Away.” On the collaborations, I like to try songs that are out of the box and not the usual thing.
C&I: You’ve ramped up the visuals this time around, making a companion film to go with the new album.
Jennings: The guy who runs my label is an old friend who was at Universal when I was there. He’s a real music fan, and I trust him. So when it came time to do this record, he was like, “We’re an independent label, we don’t have a lot of money. I’d rather spend money to make a bunch of videos than do radio promotion.” And I’m way into that. I’d been working with Blake Judd, who’d done other videos for me and had become one of my best friends. We can do things on no budget, and we work well together. Blake had the idea of doing a longer piece, making it a film. And it ended up factoring into the making of the record and the tone of some of the music. So now the thing is 30 minutes long. We shot in Nashville; Lexington, Kentucky; Virginia City, Nevada; and Bodie, California, which is a ghost town. The piece starts very normal and then just keeps snowballing, and finally you’re like, “What is happening?” [Laughs.]
C&I: Now that you’re on the other side of 30, how have you evolved, creatively?
Jennings: I think a lot of that blind hope has gone out the window. It’s a lot harder to make a living, so over the years I’ve given less and less of a [bleep] about, well, kind of everything. This year I started producing a bunch of records for other people — I’ve worked with Jason Boland, Hellbound Glory, and others so far — and I’ve found myself wanting to just work. Around 31, I felt like I wasn’t using my full potential, in the sense that there were things I’d always wanted to do and hadn’t. Now I want to work in the studio a lot more and make as much music as possible. Also, being a DJ on Sirius [XM Radio], I’ve really gotten into the whole underground roots movement that’s going on.
Find out more about The Other Life at www.facebook.com/shooterjennings.