This week, Brad Steiner and Barry Courter dive into the stories that make up the Sturgill Simpson catalogue as we prepare for his return to Bonnaroo. Interact / Enter to win tickets to Bonnaroo and more at thewhatpodcast.com!
Hey hey hey hey!
How y'all feeling?
Journey through the stories that define the artists playing Bionie Root.
Who are they? What are they? What will you see?
Which bands? This year? That matter?
With Brad Steiner and Barry Courter.
The perfect summary for an artist like Sturgill Simpson.
Wayfaring Stranger from Bill Monroe.
Bill Monroe not the subject of the What podcast this week. It's Sturgill Simpson.
The reason why we start with Bill Monroe is because if not for that song,
we might not have Sturgill Simpson recording music, winning Grammy awards,
and appearing on the Which stage at Bonaroo this year.
Yeah, I like that we're starting there and I like that he is our second subject.
We did Anderson Pack, the first one.
And I like this one because there's a lot to talk about.
We seem to be very fond of artists that do not fit simple genres.
We like guys that are all over the place.
In the words of Sturgill Simpson, he literally says,
I don't know where I fit in. And I don't think I know where he fits in either.
He doesn't. There's so many things I want to talk about today with this.
And one of them is just that. He doesn't fit.
He has to make label people and radio people like you so unhappy.
Yes. I love Sturgill Simpson with all my heart, mainly because of that.
I love the fact that he is not afraid to shake things up.
That's Barry Courter from the Chattanooga Times-Free Press.
I'm Brad Steiner from WDOD Radio in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Hits 96. This is The What Podcast, a podcast featuring, showcasing,
and shining a spotlight on all the artists that are,
or some of the artists playing Bon Roos 2018.
This week, Sturgill Simpson. Like you said last week, Anderson Pack.
We got a lot of comments, a lot of great feedback
that we will read later on in the podcast.
You can always submit your feedback at thewhatpodcast.com.
It could mean Bon Roos tickets for you.
We'll tell you how to win those here in a bit.
Yeah. Bon Roos tickets with parking.
With parking and camping. Camping. Yeah, with camping.
Big bonus. Plus, we've got a big update,
a very nice announcement to share with you a little bit later on
about next week's podcast, the subject and the guest,
that we will announce a little bit later on in the podcast.
Yeah, I'm excited about next week's guest.
We've had a lot of comments, as you mentioned,
from people who suggest that we have live guests.
And that was always the plan.
It'll take us a little while to get those lined up,
but it's starting to happen, so.
Barry, if you were to find success,
like Sturgill Simpson found success, say when you were 20,
how would you fare with it?
I would probably not be here. Right. You don't say.
I don't say. Yeah, I definitely would not be here.
I don't know. That's a tough one.
I talk to a lot of artists in my job at the paper,
and it's interesting, the literal overnight successes
and the 20-year overnight successes,
how they handle things differently.
Everybody's path is part of who they are,
so that makes a big, big difference.
Sturgill found success mid-30s.
He went through a long life of failures.
Had a pretty modest background.
The first male on his mother's side of his family
to not work in a coal mine. Right.
It's unbelievable. Yeah, think about that.
Yeah, from Kentucky, his dad was just like a police officer, I think,
and really didn't think that he was going to do anything with his life,
go anywhere, sold drugs in high school.
Yeah, so he did what a lot of young guys do, join the military.
Yeah, joined the military.
Two days after high school, goes right into the Navy,
gets in bar fight after bar fight, living like a 21-year-old in the Navy,
comes back, gets married, and just goes from job to job to job.
Yeah, with no point, no seeming direction.
At one point, seating people at an IHOP.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, imagine that.
He's the maître d' if you can use the French term.
I think they're usually a host or hostess.
This is how Sturgill described him finally reaching success so late in life.
This is very important to me because my life has been a very long succession of lessons
and even mistakes and bad decisions and being given this opportunity now,
I don't want to say late in life, but late in life for an aspiring musician,
but I feel like if it had all happened at 23, I would have self-destructed.
I wouldn't have used the opportunity for what it can be used for.
And that success started with an album called High Top Mountain.
I'm getting pretty tired of staying things all in.
Sometimes I feel like cutting a vein just watching it bleed.
I'm tired of laying it down, getting nothing on the other end.
And people only want to be your friend when you've got something they need.
But some days you kill it and some days you just choke.
Some days you blast off, some days you just smoke.
And now maybe I do and maybe I don't.
Everybody says we'll be there, but in the end y'all know they won't.
So he writes High Top Mountain because his wife basically said,
stop working at whatever job you're working and do this already,
because you're a much better songwriter than whatever crappy job you're doing right now.
So let's pack everything up. Let's spend all of our money.
Let's move to Nashville. Let's give it one more shot.
He writes that album and it's full of traditional country songs.
Yeah, no question.
It's funny earlier in the week when we were talking about doing this,
I said something about him being country and you said he's not country.
And then I listened to this record and I said if he's not,
then he's not because of what country is in Nashville today, but he is country.
He's what country should be.
So I think that Sturgell and the Chris Stapletons of the world and Jason Isbels
and maybe even you can throw Nathaniel Rateliff in this,
but they are breaking all the rules of country music by being country music.
It is unbelievable that the genre of country music has been so bastardized
that he's on the outside. He's the outsider. He's the weirdo.
But he's doing things, especially the first album, that is as soulful of country music as it gets.
It's what it should be. And I'm going to do something today with this.
I was thinking about this that I don't normally like doing. I don't like comparing artists.
One, I think it's lazy as a journalist, but two, it's not fair normally to the artist.
But you can't listen to him without hearing certain people.
It's not a direct copy, I don't think in any way.
And even if it is, he does it so well because his songs are so good
that you're kind of happy about it if nothing else.
But we're going to hear it in the songs that you're going to play.
You definitely hear Waylon. You definitely hear Merle Haggard.
And I hear some Van Morrison, which I think we'll get into.
In fact, it's funny, when I was listening to him yesterday,
I'm thinking he sounds like a Kentucky-born version of the Irish-born Van Morrison.
And that was before I even knew he was from Kentucky.
I've seen him say many times in passing that he doesn't necessarily understand the Waylon and Merle thing
and he doesn't hear it. I don't think you ever hear what other people hear of you.
You know, if you've grown up listening to something, it informs your... it's inside of you.
I don't think you wake up and say, I'm going to write a Waylon song.
I think with him, it's more the phrasing, vocals that I hear the Waylon.
It's not like he's, you know, he's not that beer-in-the-wall sawdust kind of Waylon.
He just sounds a little bit like Waylon.
I think his songwriting is more Merle Haggard.
It's interesting too, because this is not somebody who necessarily grew up with country music.
His grandmother and his grandfather put most of the music in his ear, and it was soul music.
The reason why me and him probably connect, or the reason I connect to him, I don't know if he connects to me, honestly.
I don't know if he has the same connection.
Maybe a stretch, maybe a reach.
The reason I connect to him is because he did nothing but grow up on Bill Withers and Otis Redding,
just like I did, and that's what I listen to on a daily basis, and that has formed his early musical experience.
Then he found rock music, and then rock music changed his entire way.
Then he found out that it's really easy to write a country song.
He said one time that you can write an Americana song, but it'll take you five and a half minutes,
where a country song, I can say everything I need to in three.
Yeah, she broke my heart. I'm done.
So his first album was a lot of, she broke my heart, and is a lot of life and love.
And he asked himself, there's got to be more to songwriting than writing about life and love.
And then he did a deep dive into the bodily experience.
He started tinkering around with acid, DMT.
Even read a book that was the inspiration to his second album, Metamodern Sounds and Country Music,
a play off of Ray Charles' album.
The book was DMT, The Spirit Molecule by Rick Strassman, The Phenomenon of Man.
There's so many country artists that can quote a book like that as to be the,
I don't see Sam Hunt finding that point of reference for an album.
Yeah, maybe not. He's obviously an intelligent guy.
He just was looking for direction.
To me, when you break down a song, it could be country, it could be soul, it could be so many other things.
Even a hip hop or a rap song, they're usually lyrically, it's the story.
It's what it's about.
It's just the music behind it that sometimes defines what genre it is.
We're all just reptile aliens, according to Sturgill Simpson, the subject of this week's The What Podcast Spotlight on Sturgill Simpson.
What's interesting about that second album, because it started from a place where he wanted to experience something outside of his body that was just more than love and life, and it got him to DMT and acid,
he was worried that he was going to be listed as the acid country guy.
He thought he was going to be forever and ever the acid country guy, so he stopped doing it, he doesn't do it anymore, outside of smoking weed on occasion, doesn't even drink, totally sober.
After the second album, he went on tour and got back home and all of a sudden he had a baby.
The baby sort of changed his life. The kid all of a sudden made him realize what's important, and literally at that moment thought about quitting.
Yeah, well kids will do that.
You think about quitting every day because you're a kid.
Different kind of quit.
Yeah, yeah, he was going to, and then he puts the third one out, I'm jumping ahead a little bit, but had announced he was going to take a year off to stay home with family.
And then the third one wins a Grammy, and all of a sudden I'm sure the label people said, we've got to strike while this fire's hot, so he's back out.
But I mean, think about that, how many people do you know that are so concerned about how they're going to be pigeonholed that they'll just walk away from something like hardcore drugs?
I mean, that's not easy.
I would never, sir, ever.
You're no quitter, right?
So he writes this third album, and why does he write it?
Well, he wanted to do something different. He thought he had made his album, you know, Meta Modern Sounds. It was done.
The kid was on the way. It's time to pack it up.
But then he found a note from his grandfather that his grandfather wrote World War II to his father.
It was that note that basically said, I don't know if I'm going to get out of this, and if I don't get out of it, here's what you need to know about life.
Here's what you need to know about what I know. And good luck.
And so he found that to be the inspiration for what would be his third album, which would be his major label debut, which would win a Grammy Award, and which would give him a platform to rail against the entire music industry.
He writes an album for his kid. He writes an album that basically says, son, here's everything that I can tell you about life.
So this is an absolute masterpiece in my mind. I love everything about it.
To me, what's the most impressive part about A Sailor's Guide to Earth is that he had everything ready to go.
He had everything written, basically walked in the studio, took four days and said, all right, we're done.
Yeah. What I hear there is confidence, which is pretty amazing for a guy that was seating people at an IHOP.
Actually, I never knew you needed to be seated at an IHOP, but anyway, yeah, no kidding. He's working at an IHOP.
What a redundant job that is, major day at an IHOP.
I guess that means you clean up after too. But think about that. I mean, that record sounds so confident.
And obviously, like you said, he came in, he knew what he wanted.
And he had that confidence without his longtime producer, David Cobb, who produced the first two albums.
And then this one, he produced himself, wrote all the pieces himself.
The only thing he said he needed to figure out was how to match the steel guitar and the horns from the Dap Kings.
Here, listen to the way he describes the process of writing an album for his newborn son.
I got to be honest with you. I realize there's probably nothing more cliche and novelty about writing music for your children.
But I felt that in itself would be a wonderful challenge to try to do that in a way that wasn't novelty or,
I'm not saying it's free of cliche, but just finding a new way to do that.
But the pain, if you choose to, stops if it's a wave.
The sky's falling apart, feeling too hard.
Hey, you've heard so how low we're falling all around you.
Sturgill Simpson, the subject of this week's The What Podcast.
Thank you for joining us on our second, our second numero dos.
The What Podcast last week, Anderson Paak.
This week, Sturgill Simpson. Next week, a big, big get.
I'm pretty excited about next week, Barry. I'm very excited about it.
I think it was on our top of our list when we dreamt of this, what, all of three weeks ago.
Right. Well, because Bonnaroo means so much to us.
It has been our favorite weekend for, favorite weekend of the year for what, 13 years? Every year?
And you and I get lost sometimes worrying about the mechanics of it, how the damn thing works, what's the operation of it.
We almost get way too inside baseball just around camp wondering about how in the world they get water from one place to the other.
Or, you know, who just booked that band?
Well, luckily we get to answer all those questions next week because the guest next week and the subject of next week's podcast,
not an artist performing at Bonnaroo 2018, the guy who put the damn thing on, Ashley Caps, will be our guest for the full 30 minutes next week.
The man himself, the AC in AC Entertainment, co-founder along with Superfly of the festival.
Now, everybody knows that they sold to Live Nation a couple years ago and then he sold AC Entertainment to Live Nation maybe a year ago at this point.
But they still have a major, major hand in everything that happens in and around that festival.
Yeah, they sold major control, 51%. So he's still very active.
AC, which is in Knoxville, is still very involved from what I understand and from what I had been told.
Live Nation wasn't interested in changing anything. They just wanted to be part of it.
And as we've seen, like you said, we inside baseball two years ago, we thought the sky was falling.
This is the end.
Well, let's be honest. If the playlist that you have on your Spotify isn't directly representing at Bonnaroo, you think the sky is falling.
No question, no question. And we always do it. It's going to be terrible. It's going to be changed and all that.
But what Live Nation did was infuse a ton of money.
Which is why you now have flushable toilets.
Into Great Stages Park, which is the farm, which is where the festival is held.
So next week, Ashley Caps. This week, Sturgill Simpson. Last week, Anderson Paak.
We got a lot of comments to whatpodcast.com and every comment that we received is entered to win tickets to Bonnaroo 2018.
As well, your comments, suggestions, tips this week that you can submit at the whatpodcast.com.
Last week, Austin says, loved it. It's definitely going to be something I look forward to every week.
Anderson Paak was a great start. I'm looking forward to hearing your take on Brock Hampton.
You're a big Brock Hampton fan there, Barry Courter.
Okay. Can't wait for that.
So we'll see. This is awesome from Dean. Noah says, really excited to see what you guys have in store.
We got a lot of those. We hit a nerve. A lot of people commented that they'd been waiting or looking for something like this, which is great. It's exciting.
Thank you, Reddit.
Yeah. Very much like the comments and the suggestions. Like I said, several of them have live guests.
And as we are next week with Ashley, that is the plan. We've reached out to quite a few acts and we'll have those coming up.
Yeah. We have another big announcement, another guest announcement next week during the Ashley Caps episode.
So brings us to this week, Sturgill Simpson, the focus of this week's the whatpodcast.
Now I have secured some Sturgill goodies.
Some things that Sturgill's people sent to us to support the podcast and we want to give it away as well.
So not only will your comments get you in for Bonnaroo tickets, but also your comments this week gets you in for a Sturgill prize pack.
The list of things will be on Twitter at the what underscore podcast.
You can follow us at the what underscore podcast for the list of goodies that Sturgill has sent to us.
Sturgill's people, I guarantee you Sturgill is not packing the box up.
And here's what's doing. If you want in on this Sturgill thing, all you got to do is say in the comments section, welcome to IHOP.
Welcome to IHOP. I'll seat you now. My name is Sturgill Simpson, who of course the subject of this week's podcast.
Now Sturgill, not shy. He's not a shy man.
And this success that he found later in life really aided him and helped him create a platform for artists that are totally shunned, not just by the industry, but specifically by country music.
Yeah, he's definitely somebody who comments about the election and current situation.
You're exactly right. He speaks his mind and he speaks his mind in his music.
Some of his lyrics, you see it. It's not all rainbows and unicorns, particularly regarding Nashville.
Yeah, and a lot of people think that he's like anti the bro culture, the bro country culture that he's going after music row.
But he's adamant that it is not him versus any certain particular artist.
It's him trying to create a place for guys like him to succeed.
Obviously, there is a large audience out there for the kind of records that I'm making or a guy like Chris Stapleton is making or Jason Isbell is making.
And I have no problem with them selling the wares that they've been selling for 25, 30 years.
But there's a lot of people out there that would really appreciate hearing the other stuff, too.
And in a landscape of for what is essentially a dying and antiquated business model, I would think if I were running a label, I would look for ways to sustain my business.
Try doing it in a more human way. And boy, when you hear a sailor's guide to Earth, you hear him basically saying, you know what, I'm going to do it my way.
I was reading the lyrics to another one of his songs and the title alone tells you a little bit how he feels.
Life Ain't Fair and the World is Mean is a great song title.
You know, to me, like that that specific lyric tells you everything you need to know about about Sturgell.
I don't get any pretentiousness out of him whatsoever.
He stands up for what he believes in and he says it pretty eloquently.
And honestly, he's far smarter than I. Yeah.
And he can turn a phrase much better than I.
But his lyrics are so simple, so easy to understand and lack so much pretentiousness that I think that that's what draws me so close to him.
The first line to that very song is, well, that label man said, son, now can you sing a little bit more clear?
Your voice might be too genuine and your songs a little too sincere.
That's pretty good. Yeah. I mean, that gets to what you're talking about with the whole Nashville thing and being asked to change.
The rest of the lyrics are about basically you write what I tell you to and then I'll handle the rest of it.
Right. I don't think that's the way he wants it to go.
No, that's exactly why he can put a song like Nirvana's in Bloom on his album, because he's making his own rules.
Yeah, I knew we were going to get to this one.
This is an amazing song. Been thinking about it all day, really.
There are a lot of people that have taken someone else's song and made it their own.
You know, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles himself said, that girl just took my song with respect.
But I can't think of another one where somebody took a song and just completely not only made it theirs in that sense, but made it theirs in that it's a different song.
Sure. And accidentally, too.
He accidentally got the words wrong because he had heard the song a certain way and in his mind thought the words were something else.
And when he recorded it, thought he was done.
A few weeks later, he gets a letter from the label.
You got some of the words wrong.
Oh, well, forget it.
I've seen Sergio live, I think three times now.
And every time the same thing happens during in Bloom.
And I'll tell you exactly what that is here in a second.
Kiss the fool where the changes move.
Spring is here.
Ring through Dove.
So this is an extraordinary cover and even if you're not a cover fan, In Bloom by
Sergel Simpson is pretty remarkable. To me, when it is live, it's even more fun.
Now you are going to, because you listen to the what podcast, you're gonna know
this beforehand. But what I want you to do when you go to see Sergel Simpson, and
I'm gonna guess he's gonna be on the witch stage, do you know which day he's
playing by the way? Okay so this is what I want you to do. I want you to know that
In Bloom's coming and then I want you to watch everybody else around you because
nobody knows it's In Bloom until he says don't know what it means. And then the
second they hear that, everybody starts singing. They lose their minds as soon as
they hear don't know what it means, I don't know what it means, and then the
place loses its mind and then the crowd takes over and sings the rest of the
song. It happens each and every time because that song is so unique and so
well done, nobody even knows it's a cover until 45-50 seconds into the song. Yeah
I'm guilty of it. When it starts I'm like this is familiar. But it's so like you
said it's so different that it's like I'm not, like I said I can't think of
another case where an artist took a song and just completely redid it. Number one
as well, number two as you know made it his own, as strong as that. He just
has something special and you see it on the live show and I'll give you a little
bit of a clue. This is what I've been told now. I hope that this becomes true
at Bonnaroo, but I've been told that you know he had the first album which was
you know straight ahead country songs. Goes a little acid based country in a
second album. His third album is full of horns. Well the tours that I've seen he
always brought the horns around because it was a really great sound that he
created on A Sailor's Guide to Earth. What I've been told is that this tour
that's coming up, it's just the original band. It's just straight ahead rock and
roll country. We may not be seeing the horn section come this tour and come
Bonnaroo 2018. I don't know. He's Friday night. Oh Friday night. Same night as Muse and
Bass Nectar, Khalid, Paramore, She-El Kroh. We don't know the schedule yet but I gotta
guess that he's gonna be on The Witch. He's gonna be on The Witch stage sometime
at five o'clock. Maybe. I don't know. I mean he's pretty high up on that lineup.
You think he makes the what stage? You think he's on the main stage? I don't know. He'd be the early. Could be.
Somebody from Reddit please break this news for us. Durgle Simpson the focus of
this week's The What Podcast, of course listen anytime to whatpodcast.com,
The What underscore podcast on Twitter, The What's Podcast on Instagram. Having
him at Bonnaroo and he's one of these acts, the more I dug into it this past
week, that I think he's one of those guys that illustrates what Bonnaroo
does well. Going back to that he doesn't fit a category kind of thing, right? I mean I
don't think that they build based entirely on categories. You know we need
X number of this and X number of that. I think they just go get really good artists.
Make it work. And what we've talked about over and over, the fans that
go because it's that camping festival are there to hear good music. And I think
he's one of those acts that fits that perfectly. I also think he's one of
those, for those people that you know want to pursue music, he's got to be an
inspiration. He's got to be. I mean he's got so much success happening in such a
short time frame. This all just started. He's got that sound that sounds like
he's been around forever. You know you're like oh Sturgis Simpson, yeah I've been a
fan of his for decades. No you haven't. This just started. Listen to him talk
about his recent success. Well this has all been very recent. You know we went
from playing to three or four hundred people to playing to three or four
thousand people within two years. I'm 38 years old and I came into this game at
a later point in life than most people in my position do. So I feel like a
lifetime of less than desirable jobs and just being a normal guy I'm far too
normalized to ever really walk out there and just embrace all that in a way that
you know. Myself and all the guys I play with we're all very extreme
perfectionists so we just want to put on the best show musically speaking that we
can every night. I forget that there's other parts of that that are involved.
Jurgil Simpson, Friday night, Bonnaroo 2018. We appreciate you joining us for yet
another week of the What Podcast, the whatpodcast.com Barry Courter. Thanks for
stopping by and guiding us through the career of Sturgil Simpson. It's been fun.
I'm really glad we landed on this and I'm glad people like it. Interact with
us. Win Sturgil merchandise, you get some Sturgil gear, maybe Bonnaroo tickets, the
whatpodcast.com. Just send us a comment today that says welcome to IHOP. Next
week Ashley Capps, our special guest. Thank you again.
Nick Turner, all graphic design. Lord Taco, the brilliant web design. Anybody else we
should thank? How about Charlie Rose for letting us talk to Sturgil Simpson today?
Thanks Charlie. Hey we'll talk to you next week.
Hey, hey, hey, hey
How y'all feeling?
Journey through the stories that define the artists playing Bonnaroo.
Who are they? What are they? What will you see? The what?
Which bands this year that matter with Brad Steiner and Barry Courter