Do you start with an intended landing spot- as in, writing specifically for TTB- or just see where the song takes you?
I kind of wait and see where it ends up. I can kind of tell, when a song is starting, where I might bring it first. With Scrapomatic I’ve known Paul for something like 25 years. We really share a musical sensibility. With Paul I don’t need to explain things. We share this dark, Midwestern humor. I also know with Tedeschi Trucks, they’re a little more austere, for lack of a better word. Their music is more triumphal. Muscular. The more personal stuff is what ends up on my records.
Do you ever make note of how an audience reacts to a TTB song and allow that to influence how you write?
It’s usually flattering if they like it. I try not to write towards what an audience might want. I think the fun and excitement and beauty of songwriting is that you’re explaining something to yourself by creating it. If you can re-create that in an audience or an individual, that’s the gift of it. If you start following an audience or reactions or applause I’ve always found that you’re pretty screwed. It’s a little scarier, a little lonelier, to go with your gut feeling but in the end, when it works, it really makes it worthwhile.
What did you take from the experience of your debut album, You Can’t Fight Love, that informed this album?
Those (songs on You Can’t Fight Love) were even more misfits. I had such a good feeling about those songs, but they weren’t super related. With Derek Trucks Band and TTB, there is some multi-faceted stuff to what I do, but really it’s one kind of thing- a blues, shouting thing- which is fun and a great ride that I really enjoy. But I also do other things. The first record was really eclectic- some people think it was to a fault. I don’t. Because it’s me. (Laughs) This time I tried to focus a little more. I’m trying to think of other people’s feelings, for once. (Laughs)
I feel like listening to your album evokes a walk, at times, through the last 50 years of Minnesota music: from Bob Dylan to Prince to The Replacements to Husker Du? Is that fair to say?
Oh, yeah. Absolutely. Those artists you mentioned really informed who I was, especially when I was younger. As a teenager, we’d go out and listen to The Replacements. When I was in high school, that’s right when Prince really hit it big. Husker Du. Dylan. Soul Asylum. It was an interesting time to be young and musical. Weirdly the focus of American pop culture was on our strange little Midwestern town. It was the oddest place to be.
Sometimes the most creative things happen where and when it’s unexpected.
There’s not a lot to do in Minnesota. Up until 25 years ago, it was a pretty provincial place. I’ll probably get yelled at for saying that, but it’s the truth. And yet it allowed for an environment where these very unique things arrived and affected pop culture in America. It was really exhilarating. I still stand by all of those bands.
What’s your expectation for your return on this investment of a solo album?
Good question. The reason I do it, the impulse, is to maintain a rich creative life. You have to feed the creativity to get something out of it. I’m always working. I’m always writing. It’s something I’ll always do. It’s fun to put it out in the world and see what people think. I can’t imagine it will make a ton of impact, but you never know who is listening. And, I think it’s good for my spiritual self. You have to peel off from the commerce of it. You have to find value in it that can’t be indicated by income.
Aside from your continuing work with TTB, what are you thinking about next?
If this pandemic will let us, I look forward to bringing some of these songs out on the road, playing them live. There’s a song on the album- “Charlie Idaho Shot the Mercy Man”- about a levee camp boss who murders a ‘Mercy Man’ sent by the government, that has led to all these other songs; about 15 songs for another album, based on a Mississippi River theme. We’re already moving on to the next thing.
Sounds like 50 is the new 25.
For me. Not for everyone. (Laughs)