I've known since I first listened to Black Ribbons
that I wanted to ask Shooter Jennings a few questions. But I was also pretty sure that an attempt was all it was going to amount to. As it turns out I was wrong and I found Mr. Jennings to be very accessible (I won't disrespect his privacy by posting it here, but his personal e-mail address can easily be found if you really want it). After telling him who I was and that I regularly post here, he agreed to let me send him a few questions. And here they are along with his answers.
There are a lot of references in the new album to the NWO, the Illuminati, the Bilderberg Group, and other things of that nature. When did you first become aware of these things and what inspired you to write about them?
I'd have to say my intrigue into the darker side of politics, and culture for that matter, started a while back. I've always been interested in ancient mysteries, Egypt, the pyramids, secret societies, religions, magic, the occult, etc. Not like I'm into practicing the dark arts or anything, but I've always felt there was so much more to what was going on in the world than meets the eye. That being said, I've never been much of a fan of artists who swayed politically one way or another. I've always felt it was a bit self-indulgent to push political views on the listener.
But during the fall of '08, my family and I took a road trip cross-country from New York to LA to relocate so that I could begin work on Black Ribbons
. During that trip, the economy collapsed, the Lehman Brothers went down and we launched head first into a recession like we'd never seen before. For most of the trip, I was driving late at night and we had rented a vehicle that only had terrestrial radio and a CD player, so I was pretty limited on my listening selections.
Since I was a kid, I've always been a fan of Art Bell
and Coast to Coast AM
. During the trip, I went as far as to write down the AM stations along our route who broadcast the show. If I couldn't find it, I'd find a local talk radio show of some sort. Something about disaster attracts us I think. The worse the economy got, the more I wanted to hear about how we were all fucked. As I was absorbing everything everyone was saying I had this overwhelming feeling of fear of what was to come as well as a calming feeling that I was close to my family and that we were somewhat "off the grid" in the middle of nowhere in America. During that week of driving, there were all kinds of people speaking out of our speakers. Psychics, political analysts, prophets, conspiracy theorists, etc. I found myself becoming more and more interested in really educating myself on these things, to find a point of view of my own. I never trusted politicians because I was already aware of the power of money and greed, but I was turned onto a lot that I'd never heard or even thought of. My wheels were spinning and I couldn't stop.
I began to research day and night about these things. Secret government coups, coverups, and even existential spirituality were directly on my radar. During that period of discovery, my eyes were really opened to how programmed and controlled we were and how complacent we all are with it. After all that research I literally could not look at TV, the media and our culture the same way. It's like having a switch flipped that you can't flip back. I knew I wanted to say something that really had depth, something that my daughter could hear years later and possibly want to look into. And that's where it began for me. Not to say I take the album so seriously. After all, it is a work of fiction. But I really wanted to make something that would challenge the listener and make them think a little bit - no matter the cost.
What was the reaction from the fans when you began playing some of the Black Ribbons material live?
I wasn't sure how our fans would react to this album. I knew it was a big pill to swallow, especially for the people who just wanted to come and have a beer and a good time. So with that in mind, during early '09 we begin sneaking in new tracks like "Wake Up!" and "Dont Feed The Animals" into the set. I'm sure everyone had different reactions and I'm sure some people didn't necessarily like/get the new material, but almost immediately there were some fans filming, YouTubing and bootlegging the material. After I saw how rabid for new material the fans who got it were, I knew we were on the right path. Besides to go cut another album of songs about getting high and partying wasn't in my bag. That's not where I was at the time.
You have said before that you are a big Guns 'n Roses fan. Was "Fuck You (I'm Famous)" inspired by "Get in the Ring"?
You know I never thought of that. It is very similar in sentiment and I loooved "Get In The Ring" when I was a kid. "FYIF" really started as a joke. Kinda poking fun at myself a little and having fun. It was one of the first songs that we recorded for the album and when we finished the initial tracks, I felt like it was a lot of fun. I was hesitant to put it on the record because I didn't know if the sarcasm would be lost on some folks and they'd think I was Kid Rock-ing out or something, but after the record was done I really felt we had dealt with a lot of facets of society and this one was perfect to cover the bullshit celebrity culture America has stuck it's head up the ass of :). And I also guess there is a part of me that enjoys making the listener a little uncomfortable... So we left it on! It's probably my most "commercial" song, except for the fact that it says "fuck" 16 times.
Was Stephen King the first choice for Will 'o the Wisp? And had he turned you down who would have got the part?
He was my first choice. The idea to have a DJ/voice tie the record together came to me much earlier than the concept of the songs. The first thing that struck me was to reach out to Art Bell himself, which I did, but I quickly decided that I needed someone whose voice wasn't so well known and who wouldn't be well known as a talk radio personality. It was going to be a work of fiction and I felt like having a radio personality on the album would take the listener out of the experience.
I racked my brains for a few days and Stephen King hit me. It was all about his mind and soul as opposed to his voice. I knew he was a fan and I thought it couldn't hurt to try and reach out to him. For the first five months we were working in the studio, I couldn't find a way to reach him. When I finally did he was so cool and so generous and just all around real... I was so lucky to have had his support and talent for this record and I feel like I owe him the world. I'm really proud of our friendship now.
Had he said no, I'm not sure who I would have gotten. People suggested other voices (Billy Gibbons, Paul Kennerley) but I really wanted Mr. King's voice. It wasn't a Wolfman Jack type role. It was a regular sounding guy who wanted to fight the power. Like I said I was really lucky that it all came together thanks to the brilliance of the Master of Horror!
(NOTE: I doubt if anybody could have done as good as Stephen King in the role, but I believe Kris Kristofferson could have came close- A.S.)
There have been a lot of comments on the site about the album's packaging and artwork. How did that concept come about?
Well this answer is broken into about four steps. First, we were mastering the record with Pete Lyman at Infrasonic Sound in California - who is one of the coolest and most old school yet fearless engineers - and I was looking around at a lot of the records he had mastered. Mars Volta, Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, RX Bandits, etc and all of them had this amazing artwork. I asked and he informed me that the culprit was Sonny Kay, a close friend of his and ex-member of the VSS. I sent Sonny (whose amazing work can be viewed at SonnyKay.com
) a copy of the record and we immediately hit it off. We had the same interests and taste and I knew right away I'd found an art partner. I've always done my own layouts and art but this time I knew it needed something special and Sonny was definitely the guy.
After we began rapping about it and we had executed most of Sonny's ideas, I brought Sonny to Brian Porizek (idesign4u.com
) who had been introduced to me by the folks at Rocket Science Ventures (the label). Brian had come up with these amazing pop-up style record packages and was up for a Grammy for the last Spinal Tap record. Using Brian's brilliant outlines and designs, Sonny and I found a way to lay out the record in our own original way.
I designed the "Archetype Cards" as an alternative to a booklet, a collectors item of sorts (and a way to meet the fans at shows randomly) and a dear friend of my family, Mike Sportes (filthmart.net
) drew the amazing cover image. It all came together like magic and we were off to the races. The funny thing about it all is that it's actually cheaper to manufacture because there is no plastic involved.
Tell me a little bit about the game on ShooterJennings.com.
I've always programmed my own web sites basically out of necessity. I never had enough money to pay a pro to do the sites and I've always been a geek at heart so it's always been a fun extension of my creativity. The game began as a basic website and as I kept building it I realized how cool it could be to try and make a full blown experience out of the site instead of just the normal web depot. I was a huge fan of PC adventure games in the 80's and 90's. I lost a lot of sleep over games like Space Quest
, King's Quest
etc... There was one in particular I was remembering while I was programming it called Rise of the Dragon
that I really was kind of emulating. It took me about 6 months to complete and no one (that I know of) has reached the end and gotten the prize that awaits them! Still me and my friends have tested and beat it so I know it can be done!
You have worked with Tom Morello in the past, both on his album and on stage. How did you meet him?
Tom is one of my closest friends in Los Angeles. I met him right when I moved there with my old band Stargunn about 10 years ago. He was old friends with my then-manager Sean Ricigliano and he began coming to our shows. He produced an unreleased EP on Stargunn and has been a great friend and support to me for all these years. I look up to his musical knowledge and his philosophy on riffs and arrangements. He is truly of a Master Class and wields magic and ferocious strength in his guitar and words. And his unending devotion to making the world a better place is nothing short of heroic.
Is there any chance that the Stargunn material will ever be re-released to the fans?
Ha! I saw that review on our first record
! We've talked about re-releasing it, but I feel like anyone who still cares has already copied it and passed it on! Maybe one day when we play a reunion where we all perform via satellite from our separate locations, we will release the fury that was Stargunn upon the world!
It was recently announced that you would be the music supervisor for an FX TV show called Outlaw Country. How did that come about and what will your duties consist of?
My fiancé (and muse) Drea was working on Sons of Anarchy
around the time I started recording Black Ribbons
. I would come to the set with our then-infant daughter Alabama and be Mr. Mom while mama worked. The producer and creator of the show was a guy named John Linson and he and I clicked immediately. He was a huge fan of cool country and he had said he wanted to create a show where country music was the backdrop. He brought me in with him for the pitch and sold the show. It's very early on so I can't really discuss too much, but hopefully they'll trust my scumbag ass enough to dirty up the show with some good real country music. Everyone involved is so cool and dedicated that I think it's going to be a really great show. Keep your eyes peeled!
Why do you feel that the music on the top 40 and mainstream country charts suck so bad?
You got me. Here's a quarter... You know the rest :)
What is your favorite album of all time?
That's insanely tough to answer. But I will say ONE of my favorite albums of all time is White Mansions: A Tale of The American Civil War
. Written by Paul Kennerly, produced by Glyn Johns and featuring my mom and dad as well as Eric Clapton and the Ozark Mountain Daredevils, it's truly a masterpiece that was never realized. Just take my word for it, it's on iTunes. Go get it.
What is some of the new music you are listening to at the moment? And what are some upcoming releases you are looking forward to?
I'm always listening to new music as it comes out. My favorite records of the past year are the Avett Brothers I and Love and You
, the Dead Weather's Sea of Cowards
, Ryan Bingham's Roadhouse Sun
, Earl Greyhound's Suspicious Package
, Rain Machine to name a few. I'm really looking forward to this new album by these two young singers my producer Dave Cobb discovered and produced: The Secret Sisters. It's an awesome record and everyone from Jack White to T-Bone Burnett have gravitated towards it, but it's Dave's baby. And he's a badass.
What is it like for somebody who was raised in Nashville to live in Hollywood?
Replace all the songwriters with actors and there ya go. Same kinda assholes, but different haircuts. It's fine, I was 19 running down some kind of a dream. Now I'm just stuck. That's why I was so happy when I fell in love with a girl from the east coast. I need to break up the scenery or I'll go crazy. Just when I'm getting a little too tan, New York will wipe that shit right off!
How will you follow up an album like Black Ribbons?
I'll drink the Kool-Aid, man.
You can follow Shooter Jennings on Twitter at @TennesseeWolf