Though your new album is a solo effort, you worked with a number of familiar faces on the project. How did you go about putting together a new ensemble to bring these personal stories to life?
I enlisted a group of guys that I’ve done a lot of stuff with in the past, but it’s also a very unique thing to get these particular players together, in the same room—particularly my friend, Neal Francis, who just had a big record—Changes—come out on Colemine records. He’s always kind of played with me when I’ve done solo things and whatnot, so I called him up. He’s just an amazing player and an amazing energy to have in the room, with his musical knowledge. The guy just breathes soul in and he’s such a versatile player.
And then we got the rhythm section of this great funky band called The Heard—bassist Mike Starr and drummer P.J. Howard, who also played with The Revivalists. [Francis was also a member of The Heard before leaving, battling his own substance abuse issues and finding success as a solo artist.]
These guys have been playing together for a long time. There’s something that happens when you get a bass player and a drummer together who have been playing together for that long; they don’t have to think about a damn thing. They can just walk in and know what to do. They know how to make a song feel a certain way. They can ride that groove and put a song in the right spot. In February, we had various sessions and they just knew what I liked.
And last but certainly not least, we got my buddy Chris Gelbuda, who did a lot of guitar work and who I also wrote four or five of the songs on the album with. The guy is just a great friend and such a massive musician. I feel so lucky and grateful to play with this guy because he’s just a beast.
How much preparation did the group do for the sessions?
It was a unique setting and a unique group of people that kind of came together to capture the right vibe, and that vibe was joy. That was my whole thing for this entire project—if it didn’t make you feel good and if you weren’t kind of smiling and having fun through it all, even the hardship, the worst of it, then you shouldn’t do it.
It doesn’t always come together in the studio the way you thought it would or the way you’re hearing it, but the main difference with this thing in the studio was that there was never a second where we had a sour moment. It was just all fun and games and that vibe got injected into the songs. You can seriously hear it and feel it on every single one. And that doesn’t happen very often. I know it sounds damn-near cheesy to say this and it sounds like a bunch of bullshit because it’s hard work, but it was just joyous.
Jeff Flesh, my co-producer on the album, was just a dream to work with. He worked through the songs; we spoke the same language. A lot of times a producer will try to take your music and in a different direction for various reasons. Chris Gelbuda also produced one of the songs and is just a major part of the project. He’s just a character, man. I love him to death.
Obviously, the current global pandemic has put a wrench in everyone’s touring plans and the next year is full of unknowns for music. Did you plan to bring this band on the road or let it exist as more of a studio project?
We are still going to do a tour at some point, for sure. I just don’t really know when that’s going to be. But I really look forward to getting out there and putting these songs to the test on the road. These songs have never been played live.
A lot of the time[with The Revivalists], I’m testing songs out before they drop by playing them live. So this is gonna be the opposite situation—I’ve never been in a situation where the fans hear one version of the song and then, in real time, they are able to see it develop live. Usually, fans get attached to a version of the song live before we put it on a record. But this band is super musical and I’m excited to see where it grows—and there is room to grow.
The Revivalists played a drive-in concert in New Orleans this summer and you are gearing up to release your new record. What other ways have you been able to stay active and engaged at home?
That drive-in show—man, we needed it. The people needed it, too—you could just feel the palpable energy in the air. Even though everybody is spread apart, you could still just tell that it was just so needed. Once music festivals and shows get back to being a thing again, it’s gonna be a glorious day. And I cannot wait for that day. That show was just amazing.
Besides that show, I’ve definitely been writing—I am always writing. I consider myself a songwriter before a performer. That’s what I do every single day. I’m the guy at the party that’ll go into the corner of the room and record a little voice note because I heard somebody say something and it sparked an idea in my head.
Me and my girl also did a cross-country trip in an RV for a few weeks in June. We stayed pretty self-contained there—we did the National Park thing. And I got out of New Orleans for August. It just gets a little suppressive with the heat around here. But since I’ve been back, it’s been cooling down. The weather is pretty nice as long as we can keep dodging these hurricanes.
And the band is always writing so I think a lot of music is going to come out of this quarantine. And it has been nice to have some time off the road and it will be great when we are all able to be together again.