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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Shooter Jennings talks Giorgio Moroder, "dad's music," The Shining and Scientology

Posted By on Wed, Apr 29, 2015 at 6:00 PM

click to enlarge Shooter Jennings & Waymore's Outlaws perform at 4:25 p.m. Friday, May 1 on the Fais Do-Do Stage at the 2015 Jazz Fest. - COURTESY WARNERBLASTER
  • Shooter Jennings & Waymore's Outlaws perform at 4:25 p.m. Friday, May 1 on the Fais Do-Do Stage at the 2015 Jazz Fest.

Country music anchors the "heritage" part of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. This year's Jazz Fest has a noticeably large lineup of well-received country music and country-inspired rock and Americana artists, including Kacey Musgraves, Shovels & Rope, Amanda Shires, Sturgill Simpson and Keith Urban, as well as locals like Kristin Diable, The Deslondes, Coyotes and Yvette Landry.

Then there's Shooter Jennings.

Jennings — son of Waylon and Jessi Colter — fronts his dad's band, Waymore's Outlaws, on his current tour. The band performs on the Fais Do-Do Stage at 4:25 p.m. Friday, May 1. It's a more traditional affair for Jennings, whose musical zigzagging has taken him to psychedelic depths and duets with Marilyn Manson and back to his dog-eared country roots, all while pushing against any "mainstream" connections and flying largely on a radar of his own design.

His label Black Country Rock Media (BCR) is R&D for flipping multiple birds to Nashville, and it's space for offbeat ideas, like music from Dennis Haskins, or Mr. Belding from Saved by the Bell, who recorded a mashup of Tom Jones and Kris Kristofferson. Jennings talked to Gambit about handling his father's duties while also trying to sell a Giorgio Moroder tribute album and his thoughts on the weathered catch-all "outlaw country." Read the (very long but condensed nonetheless) interview below — it spans Scientology, Stanley Kubrick and Ron Jeremy.

G: You’re coming down this time with the Outlaws. How has that been going, with your dad’s band?

SJ: It’s really cool. Richie Albright, he was with them from ’64 on. My middle name is Albright. As a kid growing up I was really soaked in his drumming. He kind of invented that funky rock drumming thing with country. To this day that’s always had a huge impact on me. I was a drummer first. Being with him has been awesome.

I remember being young and I always wanted to ride the band bus. I wanted the band to think I was cool, not like the boss’ kid. Then I’d ride the bus and they’d be like “Fuck!” and hide the drugs and shit.

[Fred Newell], the steel player — in Lollapalooza ’97, my dad was asked to be a part of that. ... We had finished this record and he asked me to come and be a part of that. I got to play my first couple of shows onstage in Lollapalooza in ’97 with Fred and my dad. We have all this history.

[Tommy Townsend], the guy who’s been leading the band with Waymore’s Outlaws, it’s nice to have him. He’s such a good guitar player. Everyone comes together in this really cool way. I got that respect I was looking for as a little kid.

All those dudes are really good people. I’ve been in a lot of different bands. Musically I’m doing the most reaching out and stretching I’ve ever done. On paper doing my dad’s band would be kind of a step backwards but it’s not. They really want to do all the weird shit I’m doing. There’s such a mutual admiration onstage. A lot of bands I’ve played in there’s some guy who’s resentful, or wants to be the center of attention. This is not like that. It’s big smiles when we get on, get off and go to the next place.

At this point you’ve reached out into some pretty broad, seemingly disparate musical worlds. Do you manage to wrap your brain around it?

The mental part is what’s weird. Right now I’m finishing this Giorgio Moroder tribute record, so far over here in left field. Then I got out on the road and do this Waymore’s thing. It’s two personalities going at the same time, but at the same time it merges and there’s moments … it can be really fun. The guys from Waymore’s are like, "We understand you have this Giorgio record and that this can’t go on forever." But they really want to play it. They want to attempt the Giorgio stuff. It’s cool to watch them be like that about it.

We just finished the Giorgio record and it turned out so much better than I thought. I’ve been very excited about the way it turned out. Brandi Carlile and Marilyn Manson are all on it, and they added so much character to it. We’re moving into territory [and] just going to see what happens. The reality is, whatever my mind is, the general perception of the world is completely different.

We’re not sharing the record with people — we’re not going to do that yet. We reached out to London … and Germany and France and trace his path and do all these Giorgio shows. No one will call us back. I think they think it’s either a joke or I’m just a dumbass… I don’t what. I don’t know why. The general perception is that they don’t really understand what we’re doing, and that’s fine, because when it comes out it’ll be a different story, once they hear the music.

That keeps me grounded to some degree. If everyone else was on par with what we were thinking, we’d probably had wrecked everything already. At the same time, it presents a challenge.

[Label co-founder Jon Hensley] and I have such a vision with the label. My whole career, and I think his whole career, we kind of felt like we’re these weirdoes and we’re all alone, and the minute we met, now there’s two of us, and it’s us against the world all of a sudden.

We’re laughing because all the releases we do, on paper, they sound like a fucking disaster. And they all turn out great. Billy Ray Cyrus singing songs, Mick Foley doing a Christmas thing — it sounds like it could be a mess, but it usually turns out like something weird and eccentric and interesting, and that’s kind of how we are.

You associate Billy Ray Cyrus now with this gooftball heartthrob and forget he’s a really good singer, like, “Oh right, that’s what he does.”

He’s a great fucking singer. He’s a really nice guy, fucking funny as shit, sweet, he’s had all this success and money. You go over to his house and he’s like, “Man, I don’t have much of a fridge but I could stick some ham in a hot dog bun with some mustard and Cheez Wiz,” and you’re like, “Right on, dude. I’m with you, dude.”

When we got in the studio he was very nervous in the beginning. He wanted me to sing most of it. It’s not like he didn’t trust himself, I just think he was nervous to jump off the ledge. I was like, “Nah, dude. You sing and then I’ll add some stuff.”

When he got into singing it, there’s was an “Oh, shit” moment with all of us in the band, like “God damn!” His voice is so powerful — the fact he could layer all these vocals, do all these harmonies. He just wanted to that for hours. ... I like that we do these one-off projects like that.  … We pretty much work with people who already had names, and I think that kind of helps. People are interested in buying them, they knew who this person was but they want to see what they were going to look like in our warped lens. That’s what kind of powered it through.

Ron Jeremy called me the other day. I love Ron. He was on our first batch of releases, on a 7-inch we did. It’s so nice to hear his voice. He’s the sweetest little man. He called to get some more copies to sell or whatever.

How did the Dennis Haskins thing come about? I didn’t know he had any sort of interest in singing.

I’ve known him a long time through a tour manager. Jon knew him independently. When we got together he was a mutual friend. And he’s also friends with Ron. Early on we did a commercial with Ron. A television commercial we shot that’s really weird and funny, like a lawyer commercial, like weird and funny, like a lawyer commercial. … We were going to have Ron and Belding do it, but Belding couldn’t, so we had Ron do it, which is kind of funnier. He’d been orbiting BCR’s thing, going to a lot of shows we did. He’d call Jon up and was like, “Hey man, I can sing. Want to do a thing on me?” And we’re like, “Oh… OK?”

We were originally going to do a couple songs. One was “Delilah” and one was “For the Good Times.” I made a track for “For the Good Times,” but I didn’t really like it. So I did “Delilah,” and when I was making the track, I was kind of stoned and I got to the chorus, and accidentally started playing “For the Good Times.” They’re really similar. … It makes it really creepy, too. Real Robert Durst-y that way. … We’re not boring people to death yet.

Is that the label’s mission statement now?

[laughs] I saw one yesterday, “We don’t give a fuck about anything but the tunes.” Ours should be, “We haven’t bored you to death yet.” Actually, ours should be, “Do not disturb: Auditing in progress.”

I bought an e-meter. I’m bringing it on the cruise, the Outlaw Country Cruise. I’m seriously bringing my Scientology e-meter and this book that I have that Manson gave me that has all the questions in it. ... I’m teaching myself how to audit. By the time I get there we’re going to audit people on the cruise in return for drinks. I’ll probably be knee-deep, really into Scientology by then, falling into the clutches.

The book is called Self-Analysis, by L. Ron Hubbard. Manson and I give each other weird little gifts. One of other things he gave me was this book, the sequel to Dianetics, but what it really is, it’s got all these questions like, “Can you recall a time that you moved an object, when an object moved you, when you threw an organism up in the air, when you walked down stairs, when you acquired something you wanted?”

What did you give him in return?

I gave him a book, one of the books Stanley Kubrick was studying while he was making The Shining, a book on subliminal advertising. It’s a hard book to find.

He gave me a gun recently. He bought a Derringer, like a five-shot .22 Derringer pocket pistol that he gave me at a show. So I got him an e-meter. He doesn’t know about the e-meter yet. But I gotta have myself an e-meter. He’ll want his book back.

Is that the book from the Room 237 documentary?

That’s where I heard about that book. … I’ve seen that and I have opinions on it. I’m a Kubrick freak, especially over The Shining. Prior to the movie I read all that stuff. … There’s an interesting article about visual neuroscience and how Kubrick was real into that. The movie, if you play it backwards and forwards at the same time it’s symmetrical. There’s a centerpoint.

By the time the movie came out I was like, “Oh, sweet, it’s going to go further!” And it didn’t. ... But I love it, man. I’m a Kubrick freak. Eyes Wide Shut, nobody likes that movie, but I love that movie.

Just saw it for the first time over Christmas.

What’d you think? I think it’s a fantastic film.

I’m a big fan of movies in a 24-hour time period. That one feels like a day and a half.

I love that, too. Or movies in seemingly real time. I read a lot about that movie, and what he was doing when he cast [Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman], it was pre-Us Weekly era. He was preying on that. He was billing it as a film about elitism and the kind of occult. But it was more about the “Illuminati” and the wealthy, these groups that would have these perverted parties, preying on the lower class. America was such a voyeuristic, celebrity-obsessed culture, he wanted to cast the biggest celebrity couple where people would want to see it for that, and he’s prey upon them. Mentally.

He would write a subliminal script of stuff the audience doesn’t know but what he knows. And he’d shoot with that in mind. ... I love that stuff, the adventurous parts of art, where people just do things. Giorgio said once you realize you can free yourself of the limitation of what you’re supposed to do in music — and this applies to film — you realize you can do anything. There’s so much convention into how things are made and Kubrick was trying to take it to another level all the time.

I wanted to ask about the term “outlaw country” — there are entire gigs built around that now, with the cruise and your radio. Sturgill Simpson’s playing Jazz Fest, he’s been billed as that too.

I’ve known him a long time. But yeah, that outlaw country thing — I’m worn out by it. I don’t mean in terms of my radio station. That was built with the utmost best intent. Outside of things like that, whenever I see that it’s usually a red flag that this is gonna suck. When someone’s like, “Yeah man, we’re badass outlaw country.” I’m like, "OK, This is gonna blow.”

It’s like hearing someone say, “We’re a rap-metal band.” And you’re like, yeah, Rage Against the Machine ruled, but that’s where it stopped.

It’s hard for me. My dad never really liked it back then. He never toted “I’m an outlaw” and all this business, so it seems kind of silly seeing a whole generation of entitled MTV kids that have PlayStations grow up and put on a vest and pretend they grew up in 1950 Arkansas. It’s hard for me to get behind. My station I like. I liked it from Day 1 because the fact they say “You’re in outlaw country.” It felt more like an area of Disneyland than it did “We’re outlaw country and rebels and shit.”

You’re hanging onto something that happened so long ago, and you’re trying to be the next Waylon or Willie, but there will never be that. The perspective is different. Cash and my dad grew up in cotton and by the time they got to “modern” 1972, it worked. Now, again, these kids played Pokemon and three years later they’re in cowboy boots and they’re “outlaw country.” Any time I rail against something like this someone gets their feelings hurt. I just wish people would do original shit and forget about genres, forget about traditionalism. … The only thing that’s real are people who just do their thing and try and get better at doing their thing.

There’s a great artist named Scott H. Biram. ... When we look back in the annals of musical history and artists that kind of straddle country and blues and things, he’ll always be an original. He didn’t jump in the fire and do something else.

Even with me — I like my first couple of records, but it’s taken me a long time. Every time I do something I’m like, “But I really like doing this.” Then the next record will be really psychedelic and out there, then I’d straddle back and forth, then do Black Ribbons, and I’d go back — it’s always been a battle trying to figure out where my balance is.

I have a lot of factors that are working against me. And for me. But in my own mind, there’s my dad’s music. I’ve always tried to be true to myself, but at the same time… that’s why I love this Giorgio record so much. I finally feel like I fucking found my center in it. Using him as a muse was the way to do it.

For me it’s been a different kind of struggle. I didn’t jump out like nobody knew who I was and I just built it from the ground up. I always had someone there who was in the Waylon band or whatever. So it’s always been hard to trust, to build an audience, if it’s really just about me or whatever.

But boo hoo, smallest violin in the fucking world. Guys like Scott Biram are an inspiration because they are legitimately themselves and built something cool and aren’t hanging on to some convention from the ’70s, or something that might be popular now or changing with the trends. There’s nothing more sickening than watching people follow trends.

It zooms by and all of a sudden you’re completely irrelevant and you look like an asshole.

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