Hayseed – Modern Traditionalist
Still, he says, his music flows from his experience. “That’s something I still haven’t quite shaken out of, is getting beyond those spiritual concerns. Even in my current writing, I have to be aware of it, because that’s the theme that has dominated my life. So when I start writing a song, that’s the first thing that comes up. So for me to just sit down and write a love song is much harder.”
Impressive as it was, Homegrown turned out to be only a prelude of sorts. Heinz Geissler of Watermelon Records got hold of a copy and contacted Price. “He said hey, why don’t you do six more songs and we’ll keep the first six just like they are. So our demo turned out to be six of the songs that are on the record, with just a little bit of electronic touch-up work. Then we did the second six from scratch and put them together and had a record.”
That album, Melic, was released in September 1998 on Watermelon/Sire, but it vanished from the marketplace almost immediately when Watermelon filed for bankruptcy at the end of 1998. Watermelon released Hayseed from his contract, but it took him nine months and a personal letter to Sire president Seymour Stein to retrieve the finished discs. Stein agreed to the request, allowing Hayseed to return the record to circulation independently in the fall of ’99 (email@example.com is the contact for mail order and distribution).
The new songs that fleshed out Melic were more wide-ranging than the six on Homegrown. Three especially philosophical Hayseed originals were set against a delicate instrumental titled “Voices” (written and performed by mandolinist/fiddler Tramp) and two cover tunes: the durable hymn “Precious Memories”, with harmony vocals from Lucinda, and the classic Allman Brothers ballad “Melissa”.
Most of these tracks were recorded with the help of another providential friend, guitarist Bryan Sutton, at the time a featured member of Ricky Skaggs’ Kentucky Thunder. “We had met a couple of times but we never actually hooked up, started working together, until it came time to do Melic,” Hayseed says. “I didn’t really know that much about what he was doing on his own. I knew he worked with a lot of acoustic instruments personally — he had an ADAT in his bedroom — and that’s about all I knew. He said, ‘I’d love to do it.’ We got together and started working on it, and ended up finishing the record and becoming better buds in the process.”
Hayseed knows he’s reliant on his friends, and he’s appreciative. “Because I don’t play anything, I’m in a real precarious position; all I can do is sing it and explain, ‘Well, this is where I’m coming from here,'” he says. “And I’ve been fortunate to hook up with guys who have the same kind of background. I can say, ‘Think about you’re playing this church song in a nightclub, and how that kind of tension just naturally would exist.'”
Indeed, that tension is at the very root of Melic, and it works in no small part because of the personal experiences behind the music. Hayseed doesn’t put on an “Appalachian” voice; that Kentucky twang is part of him. The musicians — Sutton, Tramp, bassists Markie Sanders, Mark Fain and Larry Marrs, banjoists Vince Farsetta and Doug Dillard, singer Joy Lynn White and the others — aren’t taking up something new and exotic. Not surprisingly, many of them have gospel backgrounds themselves; all have grown up playing one variety or another of country music, or adopted it as their own so long ago that they’ve absorbed it into their identities.
That’s not to say they’re incapable of playing anything else. Indeed, anyone who expects Hayseed to continue only in the groove established on Melic is in for a surprise; he has plans, and lots of them.
“I see each one of my records as being a concept work, each one having its own kind of thing, and so I’ve already got the next three or four concepts laid out in my head,” he says. “This first one was my roots stuff, where I came from; the next one is different but it’s tied into it, and then the next one is probably the one I want to do that’s conceptually the spiritual record, where there’ll be a lot of musical styles involved, but the theme runs through all of it will be different takes on spirituality. Then I want to do a hard country record with Buddy Miller. I’ve got tons of ideas, it’s just a matter of getting it out there.” He’s also collecting classic country songs for a proposed album of duets with Jon Langford.
Price adds, “We just decided that on his first unveiling to the world, it might be more honest to have the first record reflect on where he came from, which the music definitely does — and the lyrics do too, but the lyrics are a little more modern than the average backwoods guy. So I think that we have always planned on starting at a certain point and, record-by-record, expanding, because his voice is capable of crossing a lot of barriers. I’m sure we’re always going to have acoustic instruments involved with him to some degree, but we’re going to expand, because he’s got some stuff that rocks pretty good, too.”
“That’s the whole reason I allow myself to be called Hayseed,” Wyant concludes. “It’s so that I can deconstruct and then reconstruct the image of what a hayseed is. Musically, I’ve got this whole body-of-work idea, that who I am is not going to be seen by the public until years from now when they look back over it. Kind of like Willie Nelson — he does so many styles — or Steve Earle. Well, I can do all that, and the idea of somebody being called a hayseed doing a jazz record or a rock ‘n’ roll record…
“It’s always going to reflect who I am, and my heritage; there’s always going to be that essence running through it. But I’m not going to be just one thing for the rest of my life.”
ND contributing editor Jon Weisberger lives, writes and plays upright bass in Kenton County, Kentucky.