The spark. The secret.
When Shooter Jennings talked to us about the process behind a new record, he highlighted these two inspiration points, one a bit more concealed than the other. “The spark is the idea…when it happens, then I get excited and I have an overall vision for an album. And then the secret is something that I usually never reveal…it’s kind of like when an actor has a backstory they made up for a character.”
Here, we get insight on the motivations attached to “Shooter,” the ambitious country artist’s 2018 full length record. Jennings also talks about the move to Elektra (along with re-entering that “mainstream ring”), how he decided on the album title being his first name (plus the humor associated with his music), and much more.
Listen to “Shooter” now.
Interviews: Shooter Jennings, Aaron Raitiere (Songwriter).
Shooter Jennings — “Bound Ta Git Down”
Jesse Cannon: Hi. My name is Jesse Cannon, and I’ve devoted my life to figuring out what goes into making great albums. I’ve produced over a thousand records, written two books, and recorded hundreds of podcasts pursuing the hidden secrets of how great music gets to the world’s ears. Now I’m proud to present “Inside the Album,” where we get to go deeper on how your favorite artists have made the amazing albums in their catalog. We will hear firsthand from the musicians and the team behind them that helped craft these records, while getting to know the little secrets that go into making great music.
Shooter Jennings (feat. George Jones) — “4th Of July”
Jesse Cannon: On this episode we’re going to talk about Shooter Jennings’ latest record, “Shooter.” Waylon Albright “Shooter” Jennings is a maverick songwriter who while known for being a part of the outlaw country scene, is truly beyond categorization from his wide range of work.
The son of country music legends Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter, he spent the first few years of his life in a crib in his parents’ tour bus surrounded by the likes of Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson. This prepared him to go on to be the creative force he has been for eight records and countless other projects, including producing Brandi Carlile’s insanely successful, three-time Grammy-winning record, “By The Way, I Forgive You.”
In 2018, he released his latest LP, “Shooter,” to great acclaim and praise for the amazing songs on the record. Around the release of the record, we sat down at Atlantic’s New York office, and he showed me his big personality that you instantly just want to be around. As you’ll hear in this podcast, there’s a ton of laughs. But since his origin story has been told so many times, I wanted to just hear about what has been happening since his last record.
Shooter Jennings: My last record was called “Countach,” and it was a tribute to Giorgio Moroder that I put out in 2016, technically. But I’ve had a label since 2013 called Black Country Rock, so we’re putting out our 50th release this year. I’ve spent a lot of time working on other records by other people for our deal, also producing records. I co-produced Brandi Carlile’s record “By The Way, I Forgive You” with Dave Cobb, who did my record.
I’ve been working on a lot of random projects, but to me, producing records is my favorite thing, like making new records. So pretty much since 2013, anytime I’m not touring for my own thing or doing my own records, I’ve been working on other people’s records, which is ultimately my end game goal, I think. Touring, having to tour, you know, that’s kind of a “have-to-do” thing at the moment, so that’s kind of kept me pretty busy. But besides living, family stuff, just doing records, I make some games here and there, so I’ve been making some games for online use and stuff. And just having fun, man. Just sticking my nose in as many creative projects as possible.
Jesse Cannon: Shooter has long been known as this independent DIY force in music, so him signing to Low Country Sound and Elektra is a big difference. So I wanted to talk to him a bit about that first.
Shooter Jennings: It was kind of part of the process of Dave doing the record. I feel like Dave kind of really wanted to bring me into the label. But at the same time, we’ve been family and friends for so long that I think that he wanted to kind of bring his old friend into what was going on, to some degree. And I wanted it too, because I love having my own label, but we have very limited resources and things, and we do well enough to stay alive and make money with my records. But I’m young enough and there’s a lot going on in the scene that I wanted to make sure that I had my music out there and on that same platform. So, I was very fortunate. I feel very fortunate that Greg was into the record and that Dave and Greg brought me into the fold.
And at the same time, they were bringing Brandi into the fold. And Brandi and I had been close friends for a really long time, or we’d been friends for a really long time. We’ve been close, really, since about a year before the records that she did — “The Neverending Story” on my Giorgio record. But with her going there, and I really wanted to be labelmates with her. I loved that. And I believe in her, and I feel a real close kinship with her, and so I really wanted to go to a label.
And I was scared, man, because like we own everything. We do everything at BCR. So to go into a situation where Atlantic is going to own the master and there’s going to be all these other factors. We had to negotiate a lot of things because, I mean, I’ve toured without a label very successfully for a long time. So it’s like, you know, there’s a lot of those elements that go into those deals. Because Greg is great, and because Greg and Dave believed in me and the album, we worked it all out. And I was just beyond excited to join the LCS family and be part of Elektra and really get in the ring again, because it had been a while since I’d been in that kind of mainstream ring. I feel like I’m more fit than ever to do it, so I was kind of ready to jump in and get the monkey, you know?
Jesse Cannon: As a record producer, I’ve experienced that when artists move to the other side of the glass and become one of us, that it often really affects the way they make their own music. So I asked Shooter if he experienced that.
Shooter Jennings: That’s a good question. No one’s actually ever asked me that. But I think it’s a gradual, hive mind kind of situation when it comes to making records. The first record I produced on somebody else was in 2012. I did two records of my own — “Family Man” and “The Other Life” — and those were kind of the first records that I produced outside of Dave. Because Dave and I had done five records together.
I’ve never worked with another producer besides Dave. And I kind of never really ever intend to work with another producer, just because Dave and I kind of developed a style together that kind of formed my musical taste, and to some degree I think his, but I mean he had his own thing. I did this record, Fifth On The Floor, a great Lexington, Kentucky band in 2012. And that was the first time I started venturing into doing other records, and I did a record on Jason Boland after that. But as I started doing them…like, I always loved doing records. I love arrangement, I love experimentation and stuff. But as time went on, it becomes more and more like a second nature thing kind of, you know? At first, it’s kind of a challenge, and then after you’ve done so many records it becomes kind of like you rely on your instincts a lot more.
But the thing about producing records, to me, I look at each song that you’re kind of handed or that you choose or whatever as kind of like a Rubik’s Cube or like a puzzle. Moving song to song, you’re kind of solving that puzzle in the best, most efficient way. And I think that that process, over and over and over and over again, record after record after record, if anything, it doesn’t necessarily… it’s not like you’re borrowing or that I’m borrowing music from other projects or ideas for other projects. But I think, again, it becomes this hive mind thing where all of these resources that you’ve used multiple times with other people, or like, a good example is how to get out of a section. There might be a musical section and you want to… there’s so many clichés that bug me. Like guitar solos these days. When I’m doing a record, if there’s going to be a guitar solo it’s got to be really good. Because it’s like, these days, it used to be a really easy fall back thing was to have a verse, chorus, verse, chorus, guitar solo, chorus, or something.
Over time, I don’t like kind of cliché things like that, and so it’s kind of like you learn new ways to kind of arrange songs. And over time that becomes kind of your move or, you know, getting out of a section, like, “What do we do here?” And then there might be something that maybe was a project I worked on years ago that will just, like, an idea will pop in my head. And it might have been because the Fifth On The Floor record. We were trying to get out of a solo on a song called “Wine.” Like, that might help on the Brandi record in a moment or something.
It just becomes kind of this overall, it’s kind of like a painter. And I don’t mean to get where I’m taking myself too seriously, because I know that producing records isn’t probably the most…I’m not repairing skyscrapers in New York City walking on the plank line or anything like that. But one of those things, like when you’re a painter and you start using, like, whatever colors, and then all of a sudden you discover that you love this certain kind of pastel color, so you kind of do those a lot. And then you get sick of those and then you move on to a different medium and all that. But then later, when you’re working on something, you always have those things you’ve done before. You always have those wings of the house that you built for the psychedelic record, that you can always run into that room and say, “Oh, I’m going to grab that psychedelic tool and use it over here.” And just kind of, you do all that subconsciously I think.
Shooter Jennings — “Living In A Minor Key”
Jesse Cannon: When you have a discography as big as Shooter’s, each creation you’re making obviously has a reflection on some past work. But Shooter didn’t quite see it this way, and this is how he explained how he was feeling with this record.
Shooter Jennings: Man. See, it’s funny because with every record that I’ve ever done, especially in the last eight years or so, I feel like that there’s kind of two factors that go into making the record. There’s a spark, which is basically…I used to be at a place, like when I was just starting with my old band, and we’d get a bunch of songs done, and then I’d have “writer’s block.” “What do I do now?” Like, “What do I write now?” And what I learned about that in retrospect is a lot of times the concept of a writer’s block, or some kind of situation where you feel you don’t know what to do next, usually comes from having the wrong tools or being in the wrong surroundings. It’s not really like, I don’t feel free enough to just have some wild idea and run with it.
But then over the years, after you’ve kind of learned yourself as a writer — I’ve learned myself as a writer, I’ve worked with a lot of different people, found a band that really works with me really well or people that had a lot of experience — then you kind of, I’ve worked my way out of a place where I ever would think that I would have a writer’s block. Because there may be a whole year that goes by after I do a record that I don’t even write a song, but I’m not worried about it.
Because I know that when the spark comes, there are two things. There’s a spark, and then there’s a secret, kind of, for me. So the spark is the idea. And when that happens, it may take a while for it to happen, when it happens then I get excited and I have an overall vision for an album. And then the secret is something that I usually never reveal, but it’s usually an idea. It’s kind of like when an actor has a backstory that they made up for a character, there’s kind of a thing like that.
Like, for instance, I can give you an example, one that I don’t mind giving away, is that there was a record I did called “Black Ribbons.” And the spark of that idea was this whole album about a fictional band and this radio DJ that was going to carry the record from song to song. But the secret was, is that it’s all taking place on Christmas, which was never revealed in the record, really. There’s one song that kind of reveals that.
But it kind of painted this gloomy, cold backdrop when I was writing the stuff, but it wouldn’t be something someone would normally state. Like, especially Stephen King who’s on that record who plays the DJ, he wouldn’t state that, “Oh, it’s Christmas.” Because everyone knows it’s Christmas if they’re listening to it in this fictional timeline and things like that. But that was the kind of secret box for that record was that it was going to be cold and it was going to be a time when things were happy, and all things were going bad.
Jesse Cannon: So while he’s big on the spark idea, he did have a little bit of a hiccup going into this record where he reflected and then changed his mind about the tools he was using to perceive how he should make this record.
Shooter Jennings: With this new record, Dave and I had just finished the Brandi record. I was just in a place, I was finishing a record that I’ve already got done, and maybe it’ll come out next or something. I just was like nervous about it being the next record. And I had hung out with Andrew Brightman, who manages Dave, and I had played him for some of it and he loved it and stuff.
And what he said was kind of really smart about it, though. He was like, “I always feel like your records are kind of four or five years ahead of what other people are going to do.” So he was like, “Why don’t you talk to Dave about doing a record now?” And then this thing, because he heard it and it’s pretty out there and stuff, so he heard it and he was like, “You know, you could put this out later or whatever,” but he was like, “Why don’t you and Dave talk and kind of rekindle?”
Because he knew that I was in a place where I really wanted to…I had a lot of mixed feelings going on about things. And so I went back and I sat at home, sat at the piano for a minute, and I was thinking and I said, “You know what? I’m going to call Dave.” And I called Dave and we started talking. And we had already reconnected, spent all this time together with Brandi.
And we just started talking about this idea of doing, what I said to him, which was kind of the spark to some degree, which is I was like, “I just want to do a Bocephus record. I just want to do a Hank Jr. record.” Because I feel like right now, in this time and place where a lot had changed…like when I started this other record it was before the election and before the world had had all these kind of changes and everyone just started taking sides and all this shit. So I just kind of felt like it was a serious experimental record and I wanted to do something that was a little less serious. And so I talked to Dave and I said, “Man, you want to do a record together?” And he was like, “I would love to do a record.” And I was like: “Well I want to do a Bocephus record. I want to do my Hank Jr. record. I want to do something that makes people have a good time.” They put it on at a barbecue, they put it on at their house, that has real shit, but isn’t heavy and isn’t preaching and isn’t talking about heavy topics.
Like, the other record I had been working on had a lot to do with my old friend passing away and some other people that I knew and an art teacher that I loved very much had passed away. So there was a lot of death in it and there was a lot of serious emotions. Not to say that that won’t come out one day. But I just kind of felt like I really wanted a record that was a pure country record.
It also felt like all these new guys that were really blowing up that are the kind of outsiders of the country mainstream. I mean, I don’t even pay attention to country mainstream, so that’s kind of out of my realm of talking at this point. But all these kind of new guys are coming out, they were all kind of doing these records that were kind of experimental and pushing the boundaries of country. And I felt like me and Dave had done that, and I had done that, we’d done that many times. And I felt like the most left-turn thing I could possibly do was to go and do a seriously honky-tonk mixed with, kind of like honky-tonk meets Bad Company record or something. And that was kind of the spark for that. And then after we got off the phone, I sat down and I wrote “Rhinestone Eyes” and “Shades & Hues” that night at the piano.
So that was kind of the spark for it, and then I kind of found my secret with it. And then when we went in with Dave, we just, I sent him all this material. I had songs I had written previously. I had songs that I was writing as the days went by that I really liked, and I sent it to him and he kind of chose the ones that he liked. And we went in and we started. And one of the good things with Dave, one of the great things with me and Dave, is that we can kind of sit there like little kids and just kind of make shit up on the spot. And we always did that with all the records that we did. I mean, a lot of “Black Ribbons” was us making a lot of the music up on the spot. I had lyrics or I’d have ideas but some of the songs we just made shit up and then I would write lyrics to them.
Jesse Cannon: I wanted to quickly have him clarify if this was happening in pre-production or if this was live in the studio, since producer Dave Cobb is notorious for writing on the spot in the studio.
Shooter Jennings: So with this record, we came in and I had “Living In A Minor Key,” which I had previously released on a George Jones tribute record, because I wrote that song for George Jones because I got an email from a guy that said that he was producing George’s last record and he wanted to know if I had any songs I’d like to submit for it. So I wrote two songs, sent them to the dude. Guy wrote back, said, “These are great. Let me just see what Old Possum says.” Well, then he died, George died. And I found out later that guy was full of shit.
But that dude made me, that fella, made me write two new songs. So that kind of, I put together this tribute record for George afterwards. But there was like an acoustic version of it, it didn’t have a real full band arrangement. He loved that song so I came in with that song, “Living In A Minor Key,” “Rhinestone Eyes,” “Shades & Hues.” I had written “Bound Ta Git Down” right before we got in the studio.
Jesse Cannon: One of the biggest misconceptions with music today is that with all the tools we have in the studio and undo buttons is that all these options make for better music. But what you hear time and time again when you talk to great creators is that they limit themselves. Shooter’s going to talk a little bit about how he limits himself here.
Shooter Jennings: Yeah, I mean, I’m good at improvising, especially musically. I mean again, when we’re writing these sections for, like, “Denim & Diamonds,” it’ll be literally like, “well, here’s these chords” and, like, “Oh, what if we go to this section?” And then I’ll be like, “Oh, how do we this?” And like, “OK, commit, move on,” and then we keep doing. I’m a pretty big believer in just trust, sharpening your instinct, and just going right after your instinct and not overthinking anything. And Dave’s also that way.
I mean, there’s a lot of people I work with that I’ll produce that, a lot of the times on the records that I produce, I’ll often send the artist home to do their vocals, the singer or whatever, and they’ll spend all the time they want. I’ll find a local studio. That happens a lot, which is cool because I’d rather them do that than me sit in the room for a week while they keep singing over and over and over. And them get it to a place where they really like it and then come in and then we’ll do touch-ups.
And that’s kind of what Dave did with my thing a little bit. And I’m a big believer in kind of letting people have their own process, but yet having my process and not letting my process get in the way of their process, to some degree. By my process is usually going to be quick, commit. Just go off instincts and don’t be afraid to like…one thing with mixing with me that I love, is there’s rules that somebody put in place about guitar solos are supposed to be this volume. They’re not supposed to get extra loud, or things are not supposed to get crazy loud in these moments. And I’m like, “Well, why?” Like, you listen to some of those Fleetwood Mac records and shit, those guitar solos will get so loud in moments, and it’s probably accidental or it’s like they’re listening to it loud, but it sounds awesome.
Jesse Cannon: It’s the cocaine.
Shooter Jennings: Yeah, or the cocaine. Hey, fuck it! But hey, you know, all right! Got any? Nah, I’m just kidding. No, but you know what I mean? It’s like those kind of things, it’s in the moment, like capturing it and being excited about something in the moment. And then a lot of people like to go, “Oh, I’ve listening to it a hundred times. I want to change this.” There might be some things that are worth changing, but otherwise it’s usually like, “Nah, man! it’s great! Stick with it. Believe in it.” In the moment you loved it, and that’s what we’re running on. Those people who are going to listen to it the first time are going to have that same reaction you had the first time.
Jesse Cannon: So anytime an artist names their record with their first name, there’s going to be the obvious question of, “Is this your definitive record?” Just the same as any band that employs a self-titled album name. So I asked the question that everybody wants to know.
Shooter Jennings: Well, I think when me and Dave were like into the record, because here we are doing this country record and everything, and there was just a lot of autobiographical stuff in it. And somewhere during the middle of the recording, Dave was like, “Why can’t we just call this album Shooter?” And I was like, “I’m in.” I said, “I love that idea,” because there was an album, my dad had a record called “Ol’ Waylon” that was one of my favorites.
I love it when artists will do something bold like that, because in this sense it was a simple record, and it was a record that was really easy, personal, and, again, the humor factor is really important. And Dave and I always are able to maintain that. Across all the records that we’ve done, there’s always been humor in there. So I just felt like it was a perfect record to call “Shooter.” And who knows? Maybe every record that me and Dave do on this label will be Shooter I, II, III, and IV or something like that over time.
And this is the first record where I didn’t really bring in the rock shit. I always, from day one, I didn’t want to be held within any kind of restraints. And so with like the first record we had a lot of rock. We did the first record without a label when I first met Dave. And then we took it, I sent the record to Universal South, and they signed it. And Dave and I, it was like our idea like, “country can sound cool.” Like at the moment, there was nothing cool about country. It was like Rascal Flatts had just come out and the whole pop-country thing was just taking off, and it seemed ridiculous that indie rock and rap and all these guys could cut these fucking records that sounded awesome. They sounded cool and they were edgy and they just didn’t have any boundaries. And it seemed like country had this boundary thing going on.
So when we did that first record, we had nobody over our shoulder. Well, we never had anybody over our shoulder because we always recorded in LA and there was never anybody around. But nobody was over our shoulder and we did this record that kind of combined rock and psychedelic rock and hard rock and classic country and gospel and all this. And we kind of took that another step further with “Electric Rodeo,” which was even more kind of like hard rock, country, psychedelic stuff. And then “The Wolf “was kind of us dialing back into more of a country thing, but there was still a lot of crazy keyboards or whatever. So it was all kinds of, [it] always had this big mishmash of stuff. And I think I always felt like I had something, some kind of rebellious side that was like, “No, I’m not doing just a country record,” like, “It’s going to be everything into one.”
So after doing the Giorgio record, which I really felt had pushed the country boundaries to a point, I was like, I just want to do something that was straight country. And straight old-school country. Again, the Bocephus reference, but it’s like kind of, you know, bring in a little of the boogie-woogie and the rock. Because no one’s doing that now. There are some people out there, I don’t want to say no one’s doing it. There are people out there doing it, but what’s really kicking around and people are hearing, there’s not a lot of that in country.
And so, I just kind of set out to make that kind of a record and really didn’t worry about having to like prove that I was also all these other things. Because I had already done that so many times that this time around it was like, “Let’s just do something straight country and real and fun and happy,” to some degree. So that was kind of the overall, there’s a little heartache in it. It’s overall kind of positive, like, make you want to hear it again, or spin it on a road trip, or play it with your friends. That’s kind of the idea. It was just pretty even country. My brother said that, my brother Buddy. He was in the studio and he was like, “You know” — he talks funny but he was like — “This is your first cry-in-my-beer country record through and through.” And I was like: “Thanks, Buddy. I put you through enough. Here you go.”
Shooter Jennings — “Shades & Hues”
Jesse Cannon: Next I talked to Shooter a bit about the process of actually making this record.
Shooter Jennings: I learned a lot from Dave in that area all those years we worked and all the records that I produced. I work in a studio in LA with a guy named Mark Rains, who Dave brought with him to LA. Mark engineered my first three. When Dave left, Mark bought a lot of his gear and other gear. So his studio’s very similar to some degree of what Dave’s taste is, which has inherently become my taste over the years. RCA Studio A is Dave’s haven, so he’s got all the Abbey Road stuff and he’s got…it’s interesting because Dave does things differently than I do. Like, a lot of times I record, when I produce records, I record them to tape, and then I dump them to Pro Tools afterwards, and then we do overdubs.
Dave likes to do them all in Pro Tools, and then he takes the tracks and he mixes the drums down to two tracks. He’ll mix the whole thing down to about eight tracks. And then he’ll dump those through a quarter-inch tape machine and then back, like with this Beatles-era thing, so that will give it this kind of unique tape feel that’s a little different. So that’s kind of Dave’s thing. But I mean, a lot of that, you know, Dave’s very adamant about his ideas in that area, and a lot of times I’ll default unless there’ll be something that I’m specifically wanting to do.
But going in, the sound of the record will be defined by the songs to some degree. So, I know that Dave’s going to take that and put his magic on it. And again, with this record, I was like, “I’m not even going to get behind the other side of it.” Like, even though he would try to pull me into like production ideas a lot, when we’re writing and stuff that’s one thing, but when we’re actually mixing and all that I was like: “Dave, I want you to do your thing on this, you know what I mean? Because that’s why you’re producing it.” With Brandi we might have had some different things that happened that were kind of ideas of mine, push-pull, this way, and all that, but it all worked out good.
But with Dave, for real, he’s a master of the gear so it’s always cool to… he’ll often be like, “Hey, man, check out this thing I just bought.” And he’ll just pull out some compressor or something and he’ll run shit through that, and then he’ll run it through another one and stuff. So it’s always fun being around Dave because he’s always got some new gear. He’s got some new-old gear that he’s got, or some new plugin that he’s like, “Check out this thing.” He turned me onto to FabFilter, which I had never fucked with really, and I love that man. I use it all the time now. So it’s always just kind of a fun collaboration of learning and telling stories and stuff. It’s just funny man. I love Dave. He’s a brother to me, so I’m just proud to sing his praises a lot of the time.
Jesse Cannon: As I had mentioned before, Shooter, along with Dave Cobb, produced Brandi Carlile’s amazingly successful record, “By the Way, I Forgive You.” So since the recording of this record started up right after they finished Brandi’s record, I talked to him a bit about how that affected the process.
Shooter Jennings: You get in there and you’re working on arrangements and you’re just kind of…at this point, I’m a way better musician than I was in 2005 when we first started doing the records. And Dave’s way more knowledgeable in all these different areas. So by the time that we got to my record, it was all really easy. I had played piano all over the Brandi record, so I had been playing his piano and doing all that.
So I wrote a lot of songs on the piano. Even some of them, like “Rhinestone Eyes,” it doesn’t sound like a piano song but it was written on the piano. One thing that was, I guess, different about this record is that 99 percent of the songs were written on a piano. I think I’m starting to get more comfortable with my own limitations. I mean, guitar, I love guitar and I would write songs on guitar when I was younger because I would hear songs on guitar and assume that that’s how they’re written. But then the older I’ve gotten, it’s way easier for me to just sit down at the piano in my living room and write “Rhinestone Eyes,” and then we arrange it like a guitar song. I’m better with the stream of consciousness kind of writing. Because with that song, where do I go for a chorus? I’m writing these verses and I just go right to this minor note, and it was like just very easy for me to stream-of-consciousness write an arrangement while I’m writing a song on piano. And on guitar, I find myself more limited because I’m not as good of a guitar player. I’m just not. I might play it all the time on stage, and I’ve got my way of playing it, but I didn’t grow up playing guitar. I grew up playing piano and drums. So, to me, it’s just so much easier for me to just have ideas and flesh them out.
Even again, with the Brandi record, that whole time it was me at the piano and Dave at a guitar. So when we’d be working on songs, I’d be putting in my two cents or throwing down these things or coming up with ideas on the piano, and then he would adapt them to the guitar, and they would learn. So, I’m just way more comfortable behind the keyboard of a computer or a piano.
Shooter Jennings — “D.R.U.N.K”
Jesse Cannon: On most of Shooter’s records, he’s the sole writer on the record. But I noticed in the credits of this one that he did have a few collaborators. Usually, Dave Cobb is the only writing partner on a record. So I asked him to elaborate a little bit about how that happened.
Shooter Jennings: During the Brandi record, I don’t usually co-write with anyone. It’s not that I don’t want to, I just have never been good at it. It’s a weird thing for me. I’m very self conscious about my ideas a lot of the time, so I don’t like to show them to people until I feel like I’ve fleshed them out. And so writing with someone on the spot, I usually defer to them because I’m kind of just self conscious about throwing out dumb ideas, unless I’m really comfortable with them. And most of the time, the only times it’s ever worked has been people that have the same sense of humor as me so that it usually kind of ends up being funny.
A guy named Aaron Raitiere, who’s in Nashville, that Dave had worked with a lot, and he had written some songs for the “Star is Born” thing, and he’d written some songs for just different people that Dave had worked with. Anderson East was friends with him. They had an office above Studio A there. So during the Brandi record we had the weekends off and he goes, “Why don’t you write with Aaron?” And so I went up there and I wrote “D.R.U.N.K.” with him in one day. Couple hours and we knocked it out and I loved Aaron. Like, sense of humor was just right there and we just smoked some pot and wrote that song.
Jesse Cannon: Now seemed like that perfect time to bring in Aaron who Shooter was just talking about. Aaron’s going to talk a little bit about how he sees his role as a songwriter.
Aaron Raitiere: Lately, I’ve kind of just been focusing on the lyrical aspect of songwriting. I’m 35, so most of my songs just kind of started sounding the same melodically once I hit about 25. I think I’d already, most of the time I don’t even show up with a guitar. People ask me what I do and I say, “I play the ink pen.”
I used to have a business card that said, “Coaxer of emotions. Arranger of ideas.” And that was, I kind of just to try to, when I’m co-writing at least, like when me and Shooter are writing, just kind of try to figure out what my co-writer’s wanting to say and help be more of a tool or vessel to help them say it, and not get conquered by my own thoughts. Because for me it’s a lot harder to write a tune by myself, I think.
Jesse Cannon: I then asked him what it was like working with Shooter.
Aaron Raitiere: I have a publishing deal with Dave Cobb and Warner Chappell. Shooter and Dave work together a whole bunch and I think Dave’s made a bunch, most of his records. I’m not sure. A lot of them. Yeah, I just kind of hang out and stuff’s going on, and Shooter was working on his record, and I’d been blasting a bunch of Motorhead upstairs. And he could hear the Motorhead, too, I think, at one point. So we just hung out and were like, “Well hell, let’s give it a shot.” It’s just kind of like a right place, right time kind of thing. For one of the songs, for that song “D.R.U.N.K.,” that was the first song we wrote.
There’s another one on there too. Those were more just kind of hanging out in the studio and helping figure out how to get out of the tunnel, how to get to the light at the end of the tunnel, lyrically. Our particular sessions weren’t, we just kind of hung out. You just shoot the shit for a couple of hours or as long as it takes. I want to say that none of our writing sessions took that long. I’m more like a go with your gut writer. I think with that song “D.R.U.N.K.,” we were wanting to yell something. And then we thought it might be fun to spell something and yell something, and so we started just going through words. “Drunk” and “high” wound up being two words that we stuck on.
And then we kind of just ran it down. I think writing a song is about just figuring out what road you’re going to go down and then going down it. The hard part for me is figuring out what that road is, where we’re going to go. So I think Shooter knew where he wanted to go and we just went there. What I love about Shooter is that he sticks to that old-school sound. Shooter’s country. It’s hard to find country anymore. He comes from it and he is it. It’s going to be country, so country rock ‘n’ roll.
Jesse Cannon: I then had Shooter talk about some of the other songwriters he worked with.
Shooter Jennings: The only other people that were involved in the writing of the lyrics was a guy named Leroy Powell. And there was one song, “I’m Wild & My Woman Is Crazy,” and I had come up with a chorus and I didn’t really know what to do with the verse. So Aaron, the writer I was telling you about, Aaron submitted his version of it. Leroy submitted his version of the verses. Then I combined those with my ideas and an idea Dave had, and it kind of became this homogenized thing.
But Leroy is one of the only people I’ve written with successfully. He was in my band during my first three records, technically four, but my first three: “Put The ‘O’ Back In Country,” “Electric Rodeo” and “The Wolf.” And he and I wrote many songs, several songs, but they were all funny. So me and Leroy always had this really dark sense of humor and we would write these songs like that. So I feel comfortable with him. He’s very easy to write with because it’s like that sense of humor is there. But he was involved there. But otherwise it was just me and Dave doing everything, and I wrote all the lyrics, and Dave and I constructed some of the music on the ones that wasn’t there together and it’s kind of like that. Usually, it’s just me writing it. But occasionally we’ll have people come in and do stuff.
Shooter Jennings — “Do You Love Texas?”
Jesse Cannon: I then had Shooter talk a little bit more about the process and some memories of making the record.
Shooter Jennings: The rest of the songs, like “Do You Love Texas?,” was written on the spot. Dave was like, “Hey man, Texas loves you. You should write a song about Texas.” We were sitting in the parking lot. I go, “Do you love Texas?” And he goes, “Hell yeah!” And I go, “So do I.” And then we just started laughing and then that took off. So then we went right in the studio and wrote all the music for it, with me kind of humming along with ideas, and then I would go home and write that. And the same thing happened with “Denim & Diamonds” and “I’m Wild & My Woman Is Crazy.”
And OK, “Fast Horses & Good Hideouts” I had already written. That was actually originally going to be on this other record that I was working on, but I didn’t have the arrangement as well done as I wanted to, so I kind of rearranged it and redid it. That song in particular is funny because the title of it came from Randy Quaid, the actor, who he and I had been in contact over the last couple of years. He would do these things where he would read the Bible on Twitter and stuff. And it was around Christmas time and he’s reading something out of the Bible, so I was like, “Hey man, do you mind if I take this audio clip and play it on my radio show?” So I did it, and then he wrote me this letter and he was like, “Thank you. You’ve fulfilled my lifelong dream of reading the gospel on the radio” and all this. It was really sweet, it was really funny, and he ended it with, “Here’s to fast horses and good hideouts.” So I was like: “Dude, I’m writing that song. I’m writing that song right now.” So I wrote that. And he’s got, it’s me and Dave and him have writer credit on that because Dave came up with the middle sections, musically.
So a lot of it was done all within the week and a half that we were recorded it. And then I went home and wrote lyrics to a lot of it or finished lyrics, and then came back. I actually did some of the singing there, but I do way better when I sing alone. So at home, I went recorded all the vocals at home, except for on like one or two that had already been done. And when I got there Dave was like, “Dude, you got to recut all your vocals. You did it better.” And so they just left and I was in the studio by myself.
There were certain songs that I had already recorded vocals for before I left. So I just sang the ones that I had not recorded at home, and he liked my home vocals so much that he wanted me to replace the ones I had done in the studio right there without anyone in the room. Like use the mic I had and me run the session, because he just knows that I work better. Again, it’s like the songwriting thing, I work better without people watching me. But then I’ll get a better thing, you know, so it was kind of like that.
In the end, whatever vocals I had not re-sang, I re-sang, and then we kind of put it all together, brought the horns in, brought in the background singers, did all that and finished it. And it was kind of all done within about a scattered two-week period. And it was, man, it was just very easy. We didn’t get stuck anywhere. I feel lucky. I feel like I haven’t gotten stuck in the studio in at least nine years, and that’s good because there have been times years ago where you get somewhere and you’re like, “God! I don’t know what to do.” But again, not all the right surroundings. Maybe it wasn’t the right band at the time, maybe it wasn’t the right situation. But when you’re in a situation where everyone can handle the workload, then it’s like you can just zoom through it.
Scooter Jennings — “Denim & Diamonds”
Jesse Cannon: When you hear a lot of people talk about the outlaw country scene, one of the things about it is the disdain for “the Nashville way.” But it’s funny because Shooter’s hatred for that Nashville way actually brings out inspiration in him. Here, he’s going to talk about how that brought out the song “Denim & Diamonds.”
Shooter Jennings: I mean, they all kind of have stories. “Rhinestone Eyes,” I wrote about my wife and the years I knew her before we got married and stuff. There’s meaningful things, but there was a funny story about “Denim & Diamonds.” We had done the music for that song, and I needed to write lyrics to it. And we kind of had an idea of an old song that we kind of based the arrangement on.
And I was trying to write songs, and I don’t remember when the “Denim & Diamonds” line came. But during the Brandi record, like, I hate Nashville, so I hate being in Nashville. And during the Brandi record they offered to put me up in a hotel in Nashville. But I knew that if I did that I would end up at bars, I’d spend money, make an ass out of myself or something, come in hungover. I was like, “This is not…” So I have this dear friend I’ve had since I was about 12 years old. Him and his wife live in Springfield, which is about 30 minutes outside of Nashville. So I would stay with them at their house during the Brandi record. I would come into town and I’d get down to the record, I’d drive out there, and then I’d drink with my old friend. It’d be like 10:30 at night, 11:30, and then he’d go to bed for work. It was just perfect, perfect time to be able to hang out with my old friend. And then in the morning I’d drive into town. And every morning, I started driving to Nashville and eating and it was just like all college food, like barbecue and all this shit that would just make me sick. So I found this Waffle House halfway between Nashville and Springfield that I would stop at every morning and I’d get scrambled eggs and bacon or whatever and go into town.
And so there was these ladies, and I’d already started writing the song, I had the idea for “Denim & Diamonds.” And I kind of think I had the idea for the chorus because when I was in high school, there was this girl named Rain Beach that was a friend of mine. She would always go dancing at these clubs called Denim & Diamonds, there was another one called Silverados. And they were like line dancing clubs and they were on fire during the ’80s and ’90s during the George Strait-Garth Brooks era. And all these cowboys would come in their freshly pressed western shirts and they’d be line dancing. The girls would go meet cowboys and they’d be drinking. They’d sometimes have concerts and stuff at them.
So she’d always come into town, and Rain and I were just friends. She was kind of an outcast new kid, and I was an outcast. We were just friends. And she would come over after she’d been at one of those things all night and play, like, “The Dance” by Garth Brooks and like half-drunkenly sit, cry, and sing along with it. So I had this memory of her, and so I was thinking of her dancing at the Denim & Diamonds and thinking about a woman who’s like her, that this isn’t her now. I haven’t seen or talked to her in years. But like a girl who’s maybe a little older and maybe had a hard time in life, moved back home, and still goes dancing. Still taking care of kids, still dealing with life, but she’s going to have her fun time, she’s going to go out there. Might be a little older but she’s still going to go have a good time at Denim & Diamonds.
Well, we’re driving, I stop at this Waffle House. And my wife came to visit me one of the weekends with Brandi and it was me and her were sitting there. And there’s all these ladies and there’s one young Hispanic lady whose got tattoos all over her and one old white lady, but it’s like five girls that are all working the grill and working the whole Waffle House. And “Feel Like A Woman” by Shania Twain comes on and they literally, like clockwork, all start like swinging their spatulas and singing along, singing into the spatula. It was like a cheesy scene in a rom-com or something. And it was happening right there. And I was like, “Well.” I went to the bathroom and wrote the verses about a chick who worked at Waffle House who then goes dancing.
It just kind of all came together in that one Waffle House bathroom. I was like, “Well, there we go, got that.” Went in, and I go, “Dave, I got this song. It’s called Denim & Diamonds.” And he looked at me like I was cross-eyed, like I was going to write some…I said, “No, no, no. That was this club that these girls used to all go dancing at. I’m not talking about…” And I sang him the lyrics and stuff and he loved it and it kind of worked.
But it wouldn’t have happened had the Brandi record, me having to be forced to find this Waffle House, and then later my wife coming with me and us sitting down and seeing that. I was like, “These people are the people that I’m singing about in this song, that are just still full of life and having to work their asses off in a Waffle House.” So that was kind of a good story with that one. But I guess they all kind of have stories to some degree. I don’t think there’s one that really doesn’t really have a story.
Shooter Jennings — “Fast Horses & Good Hideouts”
Jesse Cannon: Lastly, earlier we heard Shooter talk about how the actor Randy Quaid brought on the inspiration for the song “Fast Horses & Good Hideouts.” But that was only the beginning of the story. Because boy, does it get good.
Shooter Jennings: All right, well it’s like, so Randy Quaid, that thing happens. I’m writing the song. I was writing it during the process of this previous record that we didn’t release. So that record had a lot to do with my friend, the Colonel Jon Hensley, who was my manager who passed away. He came in in 2013 and started managing me, we became friends in 2012, and he changed my entire look of the world. Like changed everything. My life made a 180 after I met him and career-wise, everything. So the second verse of that song…the first verse is kind of about me being a kid and just moving to LA on a whim and being into it, and then growing up and it being kind of a reality. Which I love LA, I’m not in any way saying I don’t like it because it is my home. But just kind of growing up and kind of realizing you’re always going to be chasing something.
So I came to the second verse, I wrote this verse about Jon, and it says: “If Jon wasn’t gone, he’d put a coin in the jukebox. Sunday never comes. I pray that my son has a friend like him but the dance doesn’t end before the song is done. And I carry a piece of him and my dog and my daddy with me today.” I’ve got Jon’s ring and my dad’s belt buckle and my dog ashes around my neck. “And I give a little piece of myself each time someone else just rides away.”
Well, the story, besides me kind of commenting on what a great person and friend Jon was and what a horrific thing it was to lose him, there was a story. I go visit his grave, I take my kids to go visit his grave on his birthday every year. And his grave’s off of his parents’ property. And so we went down there for the unveiling of his tombstone, which is this big jukebox. It’s got a picture on it and stuff. Jon had a jukebox in his house. He would love this thing. It was a CD and a 45 jukebox, so it had both parts.
So when he died his parents got the jukebox and it’s in their garage. And so we were down there and his dad was telling me, his dad Tony, this jukebox, ever since he died, it’ll just start playing songs. And it would play Wanda Jackson, which Jon managed Wanda when he died, and it would play all these things. And one day it played “Someday Never Comes,” which is the Creedence Clearwater Revival song about a son saying basically, like, “I didn’t… I was too hard on you guys.” Like to his parents, to some degree. It was just like, you know, “I didn’t express myself right. There was like a missing connection there.” And it was I think a song about Fogerty’s dad or mom or something.
So he told me about how this jukebox went off. And I was like, “Man, that’s crazy.” And he was just in tears telling me about it. And so I wrote that line in the song. I did that vocal on Thursday, and on Friday I went in and we finished the record. Again, this is the part of the story where Dave wanted me to sing the vocal there in the studio and left the room. So I sang this vocal on Thursday. And on Friday, we finished the record and I had a show that evening in Madisonville, Kentucky. So I went from the studio to my friend’s house in Springfield that I stay with when I’m doing records, and then we drove out to Madisonville and I saw Jon’s dad. And he said, “You’re never going to believe what happened.” I said, “What?” And he said, “The other day I went in there, and the jukebox was playing two things.” And see, the way the jukebox works is it had four sets of speakers. It had two sets of speakers for the CD part and two sets of speakers for the 45 part.
And he said, “I went in there and it was playing two things at the same time, and top was playing “Someday Never Comes,” and the bottom was playing Waylon at the same time.” And he said, “I was sitting there listening and I said, ‘What is that down there?’ And he goes, ‘It was Waylon.'” I said, “Wait a minute.” I said, “When did that happen?” And he said, “Yesterday.” And I said, “What time?” And he said, “About 5:00.” And I go, “That is when I sang that vocal.” That is when I sang that Jon Hensley vocal. At that exact fucking time. I was like, “Holy shit.”
So that was like, I’m getting chills right now saying it. But it was one of those “holy shit” moments with that song. So every night when I sing that song onstage I feel that moment every time and I think about Jon and his dad and all that.
Shooter Jennings — “Rhinestone Eyes”