Allison Moorer – It really puts you in that place
A visit to the downstairs “clubhouse” of Allison Moorer and her writing partner and husband Doyle “Butch” Primm seems to reflect who they are. There are bits of recording equipment and pictures and posters of the musicians they admire hung neatly on the walls: Johnny Cash circa 1966, Keith Richards from the early ’70s, the Kinks, etc.
These aren’t artifacts stuck on the wall to try and prove some sort of historical awareness. That comes naturally when you enter into conversation with Moorer. She like to talk about the music, and she knows it well — not just hers, but the music she loves, which is a long and diverse list. If you bring up something she’s not aware of, she wants to know all about it.
It’s too easy just to rattle off a couple of artists who may have influenced her, because you get the sense that the music she loves didn’t just inspire her, but literally makes up the fabric of who she is in a near religious or spiritual sense.
There is no doubt that, while this is serious business, Moorer very much enjoys the process of writing songs and making records, and she’s in it for the long haul. We talked to Moorer a week before the April release of The Duel, her fifth album (counting last year’s live CD/DVD Show) and her first since leaving the Nashville majors for prominent North Carolina independent label Sugar Hill.
I. I BELIEVE IN ASKING QUESTIONS
NO DEPRESSION: The new album The Duel is another very strong effort and perhaps your most immediately accessible, but it still doesn’t sound like it’s going to be an easy sell out of the box, in spite of — or perhaps because of — its powerful emotional content. Are you willing to just keep on recording such records until somehow, probably when you least expect, something unexplainably lines up with the cosmos and you start selling in huge quantities?
ALLISON MOORER: Oh yeah, I’m willing to do it until that happens or until I just can’t do it anymore, but I don’t believe I necessarily need to sell huge quantities….I would love to have a big hit that would make things so much easier, of course. I think there is a misperception of me that I just want to do my art and I don’t care if anybody hears it or not. That’s way off the mark — I do want more people to hear it, and it frustrates me greatly that I can’t get over this hump. It would definitely make my day to sell a million records; I would love that, you know. My creativity isn’t born out of disdain of any kind of format or category or whatever you want to call it. I’m just doing what I feel like I need to do and hopefully it will catch on in a bigger way somewhere, someday sooner than later.
ND: “All Aboard” (the first track from The Duel to be pushed to radio) has a killer groove, but lyrically it does make some political statements. doesn’t it?
AM: Yeah, it’s about a lot of different things. Some political, but it’s also about people just following the crowd and doing what everybody else is doing just because everybody is doing it.
It’s also a reaction to that wrap yourself up in the flag stuff, you know. I’m so happy and proud to be an American, but I believe in asking questions and exercising your right to do so. I see a real shift in the way things are currently, in that if you ask a question that you are for the terrorists, which is the biggest bunch of bullshit I’ve ever heard. I’m a big believer in being able to say and do what you want to’ that’s why we love it here, right? Just because you don’t agree with George W. Bush doesn’t mean that you hate America. So the song is about all those things, and it’s also about bullies.
II. THIS WHOLE ALBUM IS ABOUT LOSING FAITH
ND: On The Duel, I hear the faint echo of John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band album, and early Neil Young seems to be in there quite a bit.
AM: I love that John Lennon album….There are parts of that album I just can’t listen to, like “Mother”, because he is so full of grief and he is getting it out. And that is why we do this stuff, but it can be hard sometimes.
ND: The performance of the title track is very powerful, and I thought Steve Conn played the perfect piano accompaniment to match and even push the emotional content of the song. And the lone harmonica coming in is perfect.
AM: Yes, Steve Conn is a treasure and that song was a particularly hard one for me to do. It’s just a heavy song for me, and I’m sure some will react because it has the word atheist in it, but it’s not even really about that. It’s a love song. It’s about that horrible feeling of losing the love of your life and you’re angry.
That was a hard one to do. Even though most of the album was pretty much live, that one was just his piano and me singing. The first time we tried I couldn’t do it — I just couldn’t get through it, because it really puts you in that place, and if you’ve ever been in that place where you lost somebody, it just feels so bad and it’s hard to get back out of that. That is the closest to hopeless I’ve ever been, losing my parents, and there’s been others as well. I just lost my uncle last year, who raised me after my parents died. I can really connect with the feeling that comes with that particular song.
ND: I think a lot of people will feel it. It’s not the kind of a thing that one would have on as background music; it just sort of gradually seems to take over the room. Kind of sometimes when you see a film like Mystic River you just sort of walk out of the theater…