Further Down the Rabbit Hole: Interviewing Shooter Jennings
    • MONDAY, MARCH 18, 2013

    • Posted by: Matt Howard

    Has your caller ID ever read "Waylon Jennings"? Reading this name, knowing the lineage of the man that would be on the other end of the phone line automatically sent a nostalgic shutter down my spine. Of course I wasn't speaking with the late Waylon, I was, however, conducting an interview with the immensely creative mind of his only son, Shooter.

    Shooter, like his dad, is a musician, and possesses blatant evidence of obvious influences, but what would you expect when you grow up with "uncles" like Cash and Nelson? However, Shooter is undeniably unique, and not just from his country and Southern rock forefathers. Armed with an acoustic guitar and a classic sound, he's managing to create new and exciting projects. For example, his latest album, The Other Life, released last week, comes partnered with an extensive film narrative, as well as a comic book.

    Eventually, I overcame my stupor and mustered the strength to answer the damn phone, and on the line's other end was one of the most genuine guys I've ever had the pleasure to annoy with pressy questions. What began as an interview about The Other Life, turned into a great discussion about our mutual love for underappreciated greats like Harry Nilsson, and his influence on Shooter's latest work.

    How ya doin' man?

    I'm alright man, just getting to Austin. We drove from Miami to Austin. Been on the road.

    How long does that drive take?

    20 hours in a Sprinter van.


    Well, yeah. Hold on they're double checkin' that I'm doing an interview. [Laughs.] I'm on it! Yeah, man, It was a 2-day, 10- or 12-hour day kind of thing, which was gnarly. But we made it! And we're ready to rock.

    Awesome. And today is the release day for The Other Life?

    It is, man, I'm excited that it's out. I'm kind of anxious for people to get it in their hands.

    How long did it take to write and produce the album?

    Well, it's kind of weird because I put together this band in New York at the end of 2010, and we went in the studio in March of 2011 and recorded what would become Family Man, our last record. Five of the songs on this record were recorded during those sessions, and then shortly after that, "Outlaw You" was recorded. And we went ahead and put "Outlaw You" out and then we made the decision to split up the recordings into two records. We chose what was gonna go on Family Man and what would go on there. And then I went back and wrote songs and finished out the rest of the set of the thing, and we began working on a film that went with it in the middle of that, which was cool because it was early enough that I could kind of do things that would apply to both the film and the music in the album. It kind of was all year last year and part of 2011 kind of thing.

    What led you to want to attach a film to this album?

    Well, I mean really we wanted to do something that was gonna be a look at, like, the dismal side of things. I met a partner and a great judge, who directed the film, who I became very close friends with. We did several videos together, and really went with Entertainment One and told them that we wanted to do this. They wanted us to do a bunch of videos anyway, because they felt like it was more effective to create content, which I totally agree with that mindset, [rather than] you know, promoting stuff by just throwing money at radio or whatever. So we came back with the concept and content idea, and they went for it. We spent several weeks filming it, and I think it turned out pretty good. Yeah, I think it turned out really good actually, and I'm really excited about that. But I just like the idea of having a visual counterpart to the record. I did a record called Black Ribbon several years ago and I really wanted to put a film version of the music out. And I kind of lined it all up, except I couldn't get the funding in time. So in this case, we figured out a way to do this within a budget and within a way it would be high quality and cool and something that kind of further explores the themes of the record, you know, visually.

    And can you describe some of the themes of the record?

    Well, I have to. [Laughs] You know, I think the same theme goes along with pretty much all of my records I've ever done, in a way, which is living life and dealing with finding your own identity through whatever the storms of life may be, and at the same time realizing those identities, coming to terms with good things you do, coming to terms with bad things you do, and ultimately finding your place. I feel like with this record it's just further down the rabbit hole for me.

    And I haven't seen the film yet. I did watch a trailer. One of my interns earlier watched it and her reaction was: "What just happened?!" Was that something that you expected or what are you looking to get out of the film as a whole?

    [Laughs] Well of course! There's a lot of things going on in the film, so really the trailer is only the first two minutes of the film, and then the film begins. And there's a video we just put on CMT which is actually the next part of the film, and then we will have the first half of the film available soon, and then the final thing. We're sort of unveiling each part of it in a way, but it ends up tying all together very nicely. Hey, I'm a dark and abstract kinda dude, so it's a little dark and abstract, but I think it's gonna be cool.

    And I guess the ending of the trailer, that's you with a half shaved face, right?


    What does that signify, in particular?

    Well, I think that when you see the whole thing it's gonna make a little more sense, but you know, for me and my life and where I'm at in my life, there's a little bit of a transfiguration - transformation I should say. More of a transfiguration, but I won't go that far. It's kind of a transformation in my own life: the steps I've been taking and feeling like I'm coming into who I am as a human being at 33, and accepting and embracing it, and that doesn't include image to me, it doesn't include anything except music. And I think that what goes on is there's a lot that gets done to me during that section and when that happens it really uh it's like ah! You gotta see the thing! I'm gonna start goin' down a path and there's a lot to read into and it does need explaining. That's why I don't wanna go too far with it.

    Yeah, I don't wanna give away any spoilers.

    No, but you know, it's all part of that. But the record deals with accepting one's self. I'll tell you, the opening track, "The Flying Saucer Song" is a song by Harry Nilsson. It was very different from his version. The first version I heard was done on a record that John Lennon produced called Pussy Cats. I must give credit to J. Roddy Walston - I don't know if you know who that is - J. Roddy Walston and the Business, it's a great Baltimore band. My dad was a big Nilsson fan, and I had Nilsson, Schmillsson and Son of Schmillsson, and I loved them, but I hadn't really gone down to the depths of Harry Nilsson yet. And one night we were playing a show with J. Roddy and he said, "Dude, you need to get into Harry Nilsson all the way!" and he gave me a couple of albums to check out. And after that, it was done. He's one of my favorite artists of all time. I love that J. Roddy could see that in me, that I would get that. So anyway, the first time I heard "Flying Saucer Song," it really struck me, and I read that those were the lyrics that he had felt like he wanted to be remembered by most. And the lyrics of that song, as abstract and kind of cool and out there as they are in a way, it's a very, very strong message that he was putting out there, and it's basically that no matter what is going on in your life, what position you're in, there's someone out there who's looking to you. It may be one person, it may be a lot, but there's somebody who's gonna watch you in your life. And it's like you know, the realization of that, is kind of the realization that you need to burn the brightest thing you can because you're guiding somebody, no matter who it is. It may be your kids, it may be your wife, your friend, it may be an entire audience of people that follow your music, whatever - it's applicable in every form of life. That kind of realization, and owning that, really struck me. And I feel like that, lyrically, was the thing that set this record off. It kind of, in a roundabout way, explains what I'm talking about. You know what I mean?

    Yeah, that's awesome. Actually just last year I had my dive into Nilsson. And it's something that you can never, never get out of, you're always stuck in there.

    Yeah, yeah! I love him, man. Love him to death. I've learned so much listening to his music.

    I think my favorite of his is his cover of Ike and Tina's "River Deep, Mountain High."

    Oh yeah! That's great! You ever listen to that whole record he did with Randy Newman? That record was one of the ones he passed me. That one, Pandemonium Shadow Show and Pussy Cats, those are like the three. Those really had an effect on me. I loved when he would cover somebody else playing. Like when he played "Save the last Dance" on Pussycats was pretty amazing.

    Yeah. I'm sorry we're talking about somebody else's album, we're supposed to be talking about yours.

    Hey man, I'll talk about Nilsson all day long, brother.

    I wish we could! So in addition to playing down in Austin, are there gonna be any screenings?

    Well, here's what we're doing, as we're pulling it together: the film is all done minus a very small segment which should be finished this week and then what we're trying to do is once we start touring the 11th, besides figuring out actual screenings and going to festivals and art conventions, we're actually doing a lot of other things. J.D. Wilkes, who's a singer in a band called the Legendary Shack Shakers and another band called the Dirt Daubers - which have fantastic music, very talented artists - he's drawing this comic book that goes with the film as well, and explains sort of the back story of the film a little bit, in a very comic book kind of way, and R.D. Hall's writing it, who's a great writer, who helped us write the screenplay for the film. So we're going to be taking it to some comic conventions also, and then also we'll do screenings at like, dinners, we're going to have some VIP things at our shows where we're going to do screenings, we're gonna use it in a lot of ways live to create a visual experience for people at shows, too. We're kind of figuring out exactly how we're gonna take these pieces of it on the internet and all that, but all that's gonna be coming in a very organic way over the next month.

    That's awesome. I can't wait to see the comic book now.

    Yeah, yeah, definitely. J.D's the man too! He's illustrating it. I can't believe it; I'm really excited about it. I read it this morning and I was like 'Alright, we're goin' deeper and deeper with this thing!'

    It looks like - just from the trailer - a perfect fit for a comic.

    Right. Yeah, man, it could. And like I said, that first part is calm, but like, the first beginning of the story happens right there. And then it'll be released in the first half of the film, in a little bit.

    The Other Life is now available here.

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