Jason Ringenberg – We will always be on that road trying to get there
ND: “Trail of Tears” (from Guadalcanal Diary’s 1984 debut Walking In The Shadow Of The Big Man) might be even more unexpected.
JR: I remember hearing that song the first day it came out. I was just blown away by it. So I’ve sung it for years. It just seemed to fit a place the record needed. I’d written “Price Of Progress”, which covered the gothic Southern aspect of who I am as well. “Trail Of Tears” is a sort of companion song to it.
ND: Why does it fit?
JR: It takes the Southern mythology even deeper than I’ve done in the past with “Still Tied” and “Harvest Moon” and songs like that. I needed more of that on the record. I’ve written about the South before, but never in a way that went back to the Cherokees. The Cherokees ruled the South until the white man came. How that changed, and how they adapted to that, is quite an amazing story. It’s a very sad story, of course.
After the white man came, they built up their own culture. They were really the only tribe to do it; certainly the only tribe in the South to do it. They had their own languages and they were contributing to the economy of the South. Then they were forced to move. It’s an incredibly sad story.
II. WE SOMETIMES FORGET THAT WE HAVE SUCH A RICH HISTORY
ND: You mentioned ‘Price Of Progress.” The opening line (“Some people have the nerve/To say you get what you deserve”) really jumped out at me the first time I listened to the album. Where’d that come from?
JR: I wrote “Price Of Progress” in Ireland on the last Scorcher tour of Europe. I went over a week early. I was walking the Moors and feeling the connection between Celtic Ireland and the Celtic South. I had this general idea about a Southern farmer whose farm was slowly being flooded by the TVA dams. I thought that was such an evocative story. I don’t think it had been written about in a song; it may have been in short stories. So I wrote a story about a Southern farmer whose generational homestead is slowing being flooded because they built a dam.
ND: That sense of history has been heard in your songs from the start of the Scorchers.
JR: When I was 5 or 6 years old, I’d hang out in an old barn, and I’d really get what was cool about it. So I’ve always been interested in history, and lately it’s been Tennessee history before the white man arrived. It’s pretty fascinating stuff, with the mound builders and all. The South is so dominated historically by the Civil War. It’s so strong that we sometimes forget that we have such a rich history long before that.
ND: You’re living on a Tennessee farm now, right?
JR: It’s a 1940s farm — actually, a chicken farm. That’s part of why I call the record company Courageous Chicken. Everything ties together on this record with the farm and the family. A big part of what I’ve done in the last three years is turning this farm into a working farm. I’m building a barn now. The land has a real deep character to it. There’s some old trails, an old creek.
ND: How big is it?
JR: Five acres. Really small. We’ve got chickens, a huge garden, we’re getting a potbellied pig. I’ve always envisioned being able to make a farm like what I remember farms were when I was growing up. They had these big tractor tires with petunias painted on them. Barns with white trim. There was no real reason to do that stuff. Those farmers were really busy and money was really tight. But that’s the environment they wanted to create for their families and their children. Now I know the work it takes to do that because I’m doing the same thing: White picket fences, long wood fences, a chicken house with white trim, a little horse stable. I’m building it all myself.