Grayson Capps – Truth is stranger than fiction
Some of Grayson Capps’ songs are hard to believe. One listen will leave you wondering whether he’s a storyteller with one hell of an imagination, or someone who has lived an awfully colorful life, brushing up against the south’s most eccentric characters.
He’s only writing what he knows. After nearly 20 years spent in some of New Orleans’ dingiest corners, the gritty songwriter knows a lot, and he shares his larger-than-life tales on his solo debut, If You Knew My Mind, released June 7 on Hyena Records.
Capps once lived in a motley neighborhood called South Front Street, with a church and a penned-in horse at one end, and a $5 whorehouse and a witch-woman at the other. He and two friends skirted paying rent and utility bills for a couple of years after their one-legged landlord died. That period inspired “Get Back Up”, the bayou blues-drenched album opener.
Capps’ propensity for finding beauty in broken-down places is nowhere clearer than on “Love Song For Bobby Long”. A fixture of Capps’ childhood in Brewton, Alabama, Long was a womanizing, self-proclaimed philosopher who alternately charmed and repulsed. Capps’ lyrics pay tribute to the man: “Brewton called him crazy/Said Bobby Long was nothing but a drunk/But all the thoughts in his head was way past anything they done thunk.”
“My favorite people are the ones that you don’t normally look at,” Capps explains. “I think most people survive, but not many live, and I’m more interested in the people who do live, no matter how horribly.”
Last December, Lions Gate Films released the big-screen version of A Love Song For Bobby Long, based on a then-unpublished novel by Capps’ father, Ronald Everett Capps, starring John Travolta and Scarlett Johansson. Capps made cameos and lent several songs to the film, including one written for a pivotal scene in which Travolta and Johansson dance on the levee. (His father’s book, Off Magazine Street, was published last fall by MacAdam/Cage.)
Before his solo venture, Capps co-founded two moderately successful New Orleans bands — thrash-folk act the House Levellers and roots-rock duo Stavin’ Chain — both of which toured nationally but eventually self-imploded. “I’m an only child,” he offers. “I think that fucks things up with my [musical] partnership stuff. I always think mine, mine, mine.”
Capps finally found a fitting partner in renowned producer Trina Shoemaker. The two met when she handed him a note after one of his shows, saying, “If you’re single and live in Louisiana, give me a call.” Shoemaker, whose album credits include Sheryl Crow and Emmylou Harris, captured the worn-in sounds on Capps’ record, and now resides a few blocks away from him with their infant son, Waylon.
“She understands me being completely insane as a writer and performer, because she’s dealt with musicians most of her life,” Capps says. “She allows me to be a freak, unlike most women I’ve run across, who get jealous of music.”
Capps plays rusted-out, countrified swamp-blues, whittled down to the dirt floor. His weathered drawl recalls Delbert McClinton, while his subject matter channels Tom Waits’ fixation on junkyard lowlifes. Like an off-color barroom prophet, Capps exposes the peculiar, rotten and praiseworthy in the human heart — though he downplays his role.
“I don’t know if anybody should write what the artist was talking about,” he suggests, “because my feeling about these songs is if it’s truth for me, whether or not anybody gets what I specifically was talking about doesn’t matter….Truth transcends a whole bunch of levels.”