Interview: Talking ‘This Changes Everything’, Songwriting, Americana and More With Jim Lauderdale
As the host of the Americana Music Awards for 14 of its 15 years; a songwriter with cuts by the Dixie Chicks, George Strait, Blake Shelton and more; and 28 studio albums to his name, Jim Lauderdale knows a thing or two about country and Americana music. There is something somewhat important, however, that he did not know: When he received the WagonMaster Award at the 2016 Americana Music Awards in late September, Lauderdale was unaware that he was only the second person, following the award's namesake, Porter Wagoner, to receive the honor.
"Even though I've been hosting [the awards show], I didn't realize that either," Lauderdale admits to The Boot a few days after the annual ceremony, at the beginning of a wide-ranging conversation meant to focus on his newest studio album, This Changes Everything, but which ends up touching on the Americana and country genres, life as a songwriter and artist and more -- including Lauderdale's thoughts on Wagoner himself.
Lauderdale was introduced to Wagoner -- specifically, to his television show, The Porter Wagoner Show -- "right at this pivotal time of music for me." He'd explored rock 'n' roll, blues and bands like the Grateful Dead and was starting to really get into country music, "and then I started watching Porter's show, and I was just really captivated by the whole thing."
"[In rock and pop music], people wanted to be cool, and I realized that these country folks were cool; they weren't trying to be, but they just were," Lauderdale reflects. "There was nothing cooler than somebody like Porter Wagoner -- just musically and stylistically, he was a really brilliant man, and very underrated as a producer and visionary."
Of course, "cool" -- inherent or otherwise -- will only get you so far. Guys like Wagoner, or any well-known, well-loved artist, have the songs to back it up.
"For a writer or an artist, sometimes there's lucky breaks, sometimes it's a big struggle, but the music has to be there, and that's the bottom line," Lauderdale says later. "And so anybody who's out there who's an aspiring writer or performer, you just have to keep refining and working harder and harder and getting the songs or your presentation together ...
"It doesn't matter who you know -- that stuff helps, the connections," he adds, "but if you don't have the songs, it doesn't matter."
After all, you don't end up with 14 Strait cuts just because you know the right people.
"Well, I wish I had known more people," Lauderdale confesses, "but I was lucky with that -- or fortunate, I should say."
It doesn't matter who you know -- that stuff helps, the connections -- but if you don't have the songs, it doesn't matter.
One of those 14 Lauderdale-penned songs recorded by Strait also shows up on This Changes Everything: “We Really Shouldn’t Be Doing This," track No. 10 (out of 11), was a Top 5 single for Strait in the late 1990s. When Lauderdale found himself with a free band and a day off in Austin, Texas, due to a canceled gig, he decided to "pull off the impossible" and record his new disc in just one day.
"I realized that I had this batch of songs that I'd written either with Texas co-writers or that they somehow had a connection [to Texas]," Lauderdale explains. "These are songs that I thought, 'It's not right for this album,' or, 'I wish, you know, this person would cut that,' and they just never got recorded by me, but it worked out perfectly [for this album] that I had those."
Throughout his career, Lauderdale bounced from label to label -- Reprise, Atlantic, BNA and RCA, as well as stints with Dualtone and Yep Roc -- before founding his own label, Sky Crunch Records, in 2013. He's frank about the disappointment of being dropped ("It really hurts, and it's really devastating"), and about how he used to get discouraged in his time with major labels ("It was kind of this dream and this quest to get a record deal, and in order for it to succeed, you -- at least me, I -- I was second-guessing a lot of things"), but he's also encouraged by watching younger acts travel similar paths.
Of Chris Stapleton's major-label success, Lauderdale admits, "I admire his record company head for signing him because I think he got signed because he is a great artist, and you don't see that too often in the major labels, as far as them taking a chance on somebody [like him]," while of Margo Price's rocky road to her spot on Third Man Records, Lauderdale reflects, "It worked out so great for her, and I'm sure that by being turned down, it gave her a new strength and determination, and, gosh, she landed with such a great company."
Lauderdale would love to be able to sign some other acts to Sky Crunch as well, but the money side of it makes that difficult.
"I wish I could ... Maybe some day," he says, adding with a chuckle, "If there's anybody out there that would like to [fund] this ..."
Fortunately, even without Lauderdale signing newcomers himself, the Americana genre is in pretty darn good shape -- "filled with really talented, exceptional artists," Lauderdale says. When he's on the road, he'll dial up the radio stations in the areas he's passing through, and he often hears something new or different.
"It puts things in perspective for me that when I release something, I have to really be realistic as far as, you know, I don't know how often it might be played on radio or how much exposure am I getting because there's so many people," he continues, "and I think that's a good problem to have because the listener has so many choices."
This Changes Everything is available for purchase on Lauderdale's official website, where fans can also find his upcoming tour dates.
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