JD McPherson made a move recently from his home state of Oklahoma to Music City USA, Nashville, TN, apparently opening the creative doors both figurative and literal for his new LP. McPherson spoke with Kyle Meredith backstage at Forecastle 2017 about the process and what we can expect from the soon-to-be-announced record.
Listen to the interview above or read it below, and revisit one of our favorites, “Head Over Heels.”
Kyle Meredith: So what’s your life been like in the past year? Two years?
JD McPherson: That’s a good time to exam because there’s been a lot going on. Two years ago this August I moved to Nashville, Tennessee, and so that changed a lot of stuff in my life. We did just record a record. It’s mastered and ready to go. It’s going to come out this year. I’m going to find something to knock on here. I’ll knock on my own head. We’re getting ready to announce pretty soon, actually.
Moving to Nashville opened up a lot of changes in process, and a lot of opportunities. The biggest one is that we recorded our record at RCA studio B, and I’m not sure if that’s a household name, but it’s really one of the last of the great, original studios in Nashville that’s kept open by the Country Music Hall of Fame. That’s where Chet Atkins basically produced all the big Nashville sound stuff in the ’50s and ’60s. Pretty much every country hit you can think of was recorded there, as well as all the other Everly Brothers stuff was recorded there. All the Roy Orbison stuff that was on Monument, so Crying, Only the Lonely, all that stuff was recorded there. All the post-Army Elvis stuff was recorded there.
Kyle Meredith: Tell me you can feel the ghosts of that room.
JD McPherson: That was really the thing. Since it’s a museum in the daytime, there was a lot of weird little things we had to kind of commit to, to do it there, but it was like a gig every night because we’d load in every night, and then tear down so the museum could resume the next morning. But every night, they have speakers set up in that room, and we would listen to tracks that were recorded in there, and it was like, “What are we doing?” And then also being able to use the piano that Floyd Kramer played on, and the vibes, the vibraphone that you can hear at the beginning of Crying.
Kyle Meredith: And the soul is in every bit of that.
JD McPherson: I mean, I just can’t explain what it felt like to record there. And it’s also strange, like when we first set up and started going the first day, we were kind of trying to nail the sound, RCA B sound, and the longer we were there, the louder and fuzzier the guitars got. I don’t know what it was, but it’s like something about being in there inspired a reverence in some way. I don’t know. It was a really magical experience.
Kyle Meredith: I was just in Sun Studios for the first time. I took the tour, me and my son, and I didn’t know we could go downstairs, because it’s a working studio. They still have people in there every night, and they’re like, “This is the X. This is where Elvis stood.” You start thinking about Rocket 88 and all that stuff, and the birth of everything, and I mean, I had the same experience because there’s the drums that Larry Mullen Jr. played on. I lost it. I cried a little. I get it. Just having that feeling.
JD McPherson: I did the Sun tour quite a long time ago, and I just can’t explain what that meant. You know what I mean?
Kyle Meredith: Yeah.
JD McPherson: Yeah, for a band like ours that is really aware of and really informed by kind of historical sounds, and all those amazing musicians and songwriters that went through there, it was a huge, huge, deal for us, so going to Nashville really kind of changed a lot of things for us. It was a pretty big move.
Kyle Meredith: The changes you’re talking about specifically, I mean, is this just personal lifestyle kind of changes? Is it artistic changes?
JD McPherson: Well, yeah, moving my family. I’ve never lived anywhere but Oklahoma, so moving to a new city was a big deal. But then all of a sudden, being in a community where you’ll end up meeting a musician that lives two doors down from you, and every other house has got somebody in a band, and it was … you think about those real music towns where you feel like almost it would be like a real competitive environment, but it was the opposite. It was, we move in, and people are showing up to help us unload the truck, and offering to watch our dog while we were on the road. And then the another thing is opening up co-writing opportunities. I co-wrote with quite a few people for the new record, and that was a really special thing too.
Kyle Meredith: Had you ever done that before on the other records?
JD McPherson: No. That was a brand new thing, because when we were making the first two records, I lived in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, and none of the other band members lived there, so I was kind of alone in my cave. But, yeah. It was a really good move. It was a good, positive thing to do.
Kyle Meredith: You mentioned being a band that’s very self-aware of that past, as you’re going into this record. You’ve got a brand. The sound has a brand. We know the JD McPherson sound, you know? Do you try to build on that? Do you play to the audience? What goes into this record?
JD McPherson: There’s a lot of things that will influence a record. The live shows influence your writing a lot. You start getting a different feeling. For instance, when Jimmy switches to electric bass, there’s a kind of a lift in volume on stage. That feels really great, and you see it in the audience too, so you start thinking in those terms a little bit. You start thinking about that kind of stuff, but the new record is pretty experimental in sounds, and in songwriting too. I’m really happy with it. I can’t wait to put it out. Some people are going to kind of maybe raise an eyebrow, but all the foundation is there. All the grooves are there, so I really cannot wait to put this one out.
Kyle Meredith: I guess I heard that a little bit when I first heard Shy Boy on the last record. I thought, “there’s more to this than what you might think.” You talk very openly about your tastes. Off mic we were talking about you being a big U2 fan. You just covered Erasure. These are things that don’t play into the typical world of the sound that you guys create, but I see you, like when you do a little respect, that’s you reaching out and sort of bringing it back home a little bit.
JD McPherson: Yeah, I just love music so much. I mean I’ve always sort of been a sponge for anything that comes along. I’m a huge fan of all kinds of music. Of course, my first love is early rock and roll. I love everything about it. I love the sonic aspect of it. I love the historical aspect of it you know, as the first youth culture. Politically it opened up all kinds of things. It changed, and this is going to sound really lofty and pretentious, but I think it’s true. I think that rock and roll music really did more for the United States of America across the world culturally than anything else. I mean just like during the middle of the Cold War, there’s kids with long hair and Levis in Russia, you know what I mean?
Kyle Meredith: It’s culture that changes the world.
JD McPherson: It feels good sometimes to be able to kind of show a little bit more of what’s made you a person, and you start noticing that that’s in a lot of people too. All music fans have that where a little note from their past might wake up something they forgot about. It’s a good thing to feel.
Kyle Meredith: I mean we’re in the Millennial Age, where there is no more genre anyway.
JD McPherson: We’re in the post-post-modern era. There’s no more movements. There’s no more abstract expressionism, it’s all informed by history.
Kyle Meredith: You recently opened a restaurant, right? What is that about?
JD McPherson: That’s really weird. That just fell out of the sky. I have this list of unreasonable goals. I think everybody should have a list of unreasonable goals, because you never know. You never know if something might actually happen. Something actually did. I always just said, sort of as a half joke, that I wanted to retire in Tulsa with a Belgian steakhouse that plays Hank Williams music.
Kyle Meredith: It’s so specific.
JD McPherson: It’s very specific. Our band tours a lot in Europe. That was our first tour, I think. Actually our third show was in Spain. It was like a weird … We always had a real draw to Europe right away, so we were able to tour in Europe pretty extensively right away. Our tour manager/driver overseas is a Belgian guy, Tom Brandt, and we crashed at his house. He lives in Turnhout, Belgium, and it’s a great place to be because you’re right in the middle. You can hit Germany. You can hit France. You can hit … I mean, you can hit so much real estate from there, and you’re like one or two hour drives and you’re in another country, so it’s a great place to just kind of camp out. And while you’re there, he takes you over to the local bar, and a lot of people don’t think much about Belgium, but a couple things that you should know about Belgium if you are not familiar with the country, is that it’s the greatest beer culture in the world. They’ve perfected that art. Each beer has it’s own specific glass.
And they’ve got great food. They invented the French Fry, as the name would mislead you a little bit, but Belgium has invented a lot of really cool stuff. The weird thing is that you go into a three hundred year old bar in Belgium, and you’re hearing Wynn Stewart and Hank Williams playing over the speakers. It’s a thing, like I was mentioning earlier. American music, especially early roots music, has such a presence in Europe. They really revere that stuff, and there was something grounding about that. It made me feel like I was at home. Staying in Belgium I never really felt super homesick because all this stuff was so familiar.
Kyle Meredith: Because home was always there.
JD McPherson: Yeah. So I always said one day I would like to have a Belgium Steakhouse that has hillbilly music. So a friend of mine who was a punk rocker buddy in college that you would never, ever expect, became a restaurateur, and moved back to Tulsa, and talked to me about opening a thing, and there’s this little shipping container mall in downtown Tulsa, and he’s like, “Do you have any ideas?”
And I was like, “Well, actually, I have an idea, this really specific idea of Belgian street food, and beer, and hillbilly music. So it looks like an Old West saloon/European bar with that kind of music.
Kyle Meredith: How awesome.
JD McPherson: It’s a funny little thing. It just opened up. It’s called Wirwar, and that means hodge podge in Flemish, so it’s a mix of a few things. It just completely fell out of the sky. It’s weird to even talk about it.
Kyle Meredith: And you’re in Nashville, so you’re just doing sort of a-
JD McPherson: Yeah, I go back home a lot. I still consider myself Oklahoman. Yeah, it was kind of a cool … that’s a scene that’s really exploding right now. Downtown Tulsa especially is a really cool place to be, and I notice a lot of Nashvillians are actually moving to Tulsa. It’s weird. I got out there, and I won’t say who, but there was somebody from a really big rock band that’s famous for being in Nashville, and they said, “Well what are you doing out here?”
I was like, “I just moved here from Tulsa.”
And it was like, “That’s weird. Everybody from here is moving there.” So I’m always one step behind everything else.
Kyle Meredith: Or maybe you’re two steps ahead.
JD McPherson: Yeah, that’s right. Yeah.
Kyle Meredith: That’s it.
JD McPherson: Eventually it comes back full circle.
Kyle Meredith: It sounds like a fun couple years, man. Like I said, I’m looking forward to the record. We’re waiting for it.
JD McPherson: Me too. Gosh.
Kyle Meredith: That’s always the hardest part. You record it, and then you wait for the label people or the distributor people to get their act together and put it in the schedule, so by the time guys like me come around to ask for questions, you’ve already moved on.
JD McPherson: I would say they’d probably be hearing some stuff pretty soon. Like maybe within the next couple of months you’ll be hearing a couple of things, I think. I hope so.