1. Growing up with country roots, what steered you towards the more heavy side of rock and roll music?
I was an MTV kid, plain and simple. I remember watching George Michael “Faith” before school when I was 8 years old. I was mesmerized by the darker dangerous stuff right off the bat. I remember hearing “Sweet Child o’ Mine” in a hotel I was staying at on the road with my dad. Probably around 8 or 9 and my cousin and I were in the game room in the lobby of the hotel and they music playing in there. It blew my mind. Then seeing the video for “Welcome to the Jungle”. It was the most dangerous music I had ever heard. I was hooked. All my other cousins were all into Bon Jovi, but that was for girls in my opinion. Appetite spoke my language. I played drums first and then piano. It made more sense than guitar and I grew up, I was more of a nerd. I was into video games and computers and I wasn’t cool enough to be in a band with rock and roll dudes. I didn’t feel I belonged. Then I heard The Downward Spiral and I realized this one guy was making all this music himself. I felt like I could do that, the computers the piano and the drums all worked for me. This was all going on while I was on the road with my parents and around their music. So that stuff was always in the background and was ‘my world’, but rock n roll was my language. I discovered David Bowie through Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson and then the Beatles and then Pink Floyd, and I was off!
2. Despite your forays into other styles of music, you always seem to come back to your country roots. What is it about that style that keeps drawing you back?
I think at this point I’m trying to just blend it all more than jumping back and forth. The strength in country music is the storytelling and the songwriting. There is nothing more powerful than watching someone like Waylon or Cash croon about a woman, or Kristofferson telling in-your-face songs about sex and the darker side of life. Doesn’t get any better than that. But Bob Dylan is really important in all of this too. Blending the rock, and the folk and the country and the gospel. I’ve never believed that you’re supposed to pay attention to a certain genre. Just make the music that is you. That should be a culmination of so many styles of music, so many different artists that you love that inspire your decisions in making new music. So it’s all my roots in my opinion!
3. Out of all the instruments you know how to play, what is your favorite and which do you find the most fun?
The drums have always been my favorite and the most fun to play. I showed interest in them when I was really young, like five. And Richie Albright from my dad’s band (who is out on the road playing drums with me at the moment) gave me a Ludwig kit back then. I would bang on them all the time. Later my dad got me a Pearl drum set for my birthday and I jammed on that all the time in my early teens. I still love playing drums the most, there’s nothing more visceral and controlled and it feels like true expression to me.
4. Who have been some of your favorite musical acts to play with?
Well I have to say that when I got the opportunity at 22 years old to sing in the band with Slash, Duff McKagan, Matt Sorum and Dave Kushner back at this club called Club Vodka in LA, I remember just being blown away by how good the band was, how tight and powerful yet still chaotic and explosive. I knew I had to chase a sound that had that frenetic energy. So that was probably the number one. But as far as current musical acts, it has to go to Scott H Biram. Every time I see that guy perform, the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I always turn to someone next to me and say ‘Man, he’s so good.’ If you haven’t checked out his music, you need to now. And in the studio, he’s a leviathan. There’s a lot to be learned from that guy.
5. What was it like portraying your father in Walk The Line? Was that a gratifying moment for you in your career?
I was 23 years old when I played my dad. I went in thinking that I would be a natural actor, and boy was I wrong! I just remember feeling like I had to do everything I could not to fuck the whole movie up in one scene. But it was a blast hanging with Joaquin the whole time. He’s another chaos lord, and I love him for it. One of the most sharp minds I’ve met and a marvelous actor.
6. Most gratifying moment?
Oh man. That’s a little hard to peg down. I’m grateful for the whole career. But maybe having Marilyn Manson sing on the tune “Cat People” off my new album Countach. He was so important to me as a kid. He was my David Bowie or my John Lennon. He spoke a deep message with a sharp tongue that spoke to me. So sitting in a room with him at 3 am while he sings one of his best performances ever, in my opinion, it was one of those moments that I’ll never forget. I got there without my dad’s name, with my music, and we had become friends. Something like that feels like a touchstone moment.
7. After releasing several country inspired albums, you then joined up with the Warped tour. How did that marriage come about? What was it like playing on a classically punk and hard rock tour and how did that shape your sound in the years to come?
Well see, that came about because of Matt Sorum ultimately. Because he introduced me to his partner who was running a label called Rocket Science, and they gave me the platform to put out myBlack Ribbons album, which really changed my career and life. That record had a different, harder, more electronic sound and my manager at the time thought it would be a good idea to take that out on the Warped Tour. It was fun as hell, but we didn’t have a huge audience at our shows because those kids were young. So we started flyering at the tent they had setup for the parents to hang out and watch football and drink beer and shit. Then we started getting an audience. I think that record would have gone right over any young christian 15 year-old’s head.
8. What led you to start your own label Black Country Rock Media? Did the formation of the “XXX” movement to help struggling musicians have anything to do with the label?
Man the XXX thing was really a big experiment. And I think it did some really good things for introducing everyone in the scene to each other. I think it definitely strengthened the bonds a little. But I realized something very important about sharding the country genre. We don’t need these genres to begin with, I knew that, but when you start giving something another name, then country music doesn’t have to pay attention to it. Like Americana. I think if that didn’t exist country would have changed a lot longer ago. But I think Americana was really a place for the acts of the 80’s to feel relevant in the 90’s instead of just being patient and waiting for their time to come around again. Then it blossomed into something really cool, but at the same time, it allowed country not to have to deal with a certain contingent that was strengthening daily.
As for the label. The late, great Colonel Jon Hensley is responsible for pushing me into jumping off into really starting my own label. He had a vision and he saw it through. I not only lost my partner and my best friend, but we all lost a visionary. He had such passion about being able to control every aspect of the production of music. At this point, we’re a fully operating, all in-house label, management, publicity and production system. If a major label told me they would want to sign me again, the only part that would tempt me would be the marketing money, because financially, we are able to record records, release them and make the money back plus enough to do the next two projects, but we don’t have a cache of advertising funds. Otherwise, I would hate to cannibalize this label that I have now that allows me to go out there and get records to people and not worry with things like charts and awards and campaigns of any sort. It’s pretty fucking rad. But Jon gets all the credit on making it happen. Hell BCR even has computer software we make, it’s truly a channel of my own and I am very proud of it.
9. What was it like to be a part of the Johnny Cash birthday celebration? And how big of an influence has he had on you both musically and personally?
Johnny Cash was my godfather, and growing up I had some really special opportunities to be alone with him. He wanted to have a few talks with me at different points, just to try and be a positive influence. I remember a discussion about escapism he had with me. I think he felt that my constant attention to my computer was a form of escapism. Maybe it was at times. Sure does mirror smartphones today. He was a wise man, and he was really conscience of the positive influence he wanted to have on humanity. Any time I can get the chance to pay him tribute, I will devote all that I have to it.
10. What inspired the Giorgio Moroder album? His electronic style is about as far away from country as possible. What led to the concept of that album?
Really, there was an ‘ah-ha’ moment when I was listening to that Daft Punk record Random Access Memories. I knew of Giorgio but I had not done my homework, and I realized that I had been a fan of his specific career my whole life without paying attention to who was making the music and writing these songs. Things like “Cat People” and “The Neverending Story” are straight out of my childhood. “Chase” was played every night that I listened to Art Bell as a young adult. I fell in love with his story and everything he ever made. I just kept digging and finding more songs I felt I could sing. I tried one with “I’m Left You’re Right She’s Gone” and it worked really well and I knew I needed to make a full album. I was doing a tribute to George Jones at the time called Don’t Wait Up (for George) and I thought it would be so great to pair it with a tribute to Giorgio. And I began working on it, and the rest is Countach (for Giorgio).
11. Giorgio features a cornucopia of different sounds. Was the recording process difficult? What sounds did you try to emulate or did you do your own twist on the originals?
Countach was really not that difficult to make. It took almost two years of time, but I love records like that. We recorded everything in the studio live, except for “Chase” and “Love Kills”. Those were done entirely in my studio The Coil, which is a mash-up of different computers all leading into ProTools. I used the Yamaha DX7 for as much of the album as I could, and anything else were just oscillators or mixtures of sounds and samples that I made in the computer. After the basic tracks were done I would give everything a once-over with the DX7 and the computer, do my vocals and then send it on to the great David Spreng to mix them. It was surprising how seamless it was. The song that made me the most nervous was “The Neverending Story” because of the high potential for it to go cheesy if done wrong. But it turned out great I think. Having such a great band is a big part of it tho. Ted Russell Kamp is my long time collaborator from the .357’s on bass and he introduced me to Aubrey Richmond, who plays fiddle, and Jamie Douglass who plays drums. They make up my backing band, and then John Schreffler and Neal Casal graced us with their killer guitar playing on a few songs.
12. What other current musicians or music influences you?
Scott H Biram does, like I said. Leon Virgil Bowers from Hellbound Glory and the eXcavators is one of the greatest country dudes we have. I love Jack White, I will always love him. He’s one of the greatest guitar players of our generation and such a wild, eccentric madman. I love it. Broad strokes. He exemplifies it. Guys that play their own shit turn me on. The ones who write the music and the words. That’s where it’s at for me. Making new records that push the bar a little higher, and then it’s up to the next artist to push it even further. That’s where music’s evolutionary core is. It’s Dylan singing the rock shit and the country shit. I’ll tell you who takes the cake to me in a lot of ways tho, it’s Yelawolf. Doing exactly that, making all this music, writing these songs. He’s got a great singing voice, great sense of melodies and song structure. I’ve been watching him produce my nephew Struggle’s new album, and boy, he knows his shit. It makes me feel really fucking good to know that there are guys out there like him who are taking control of the music and pushing it further. Love Story was a fantastic album, and it had so much genre-blending. It is masterful, and Yelawolf is a master.
13. What was it like to record an album with your father in 1996? Did you guys play together often? What was your favorite music to play with your father?
That was the only album we ever did. I would play percussion on the road with him when I was younger, and then I had the idea to do a record that would rework his old songs and I would sing some songs, like a band together. He was really into it, and I did all the music and we went into the studio and recorded his guitar and our vocals and live drums, etc. It was a blast, and I think he loved doing that album with me. We loved connecting musically and he genuinely enjoyed it, I could tell. He got asked right after that to do Lollapalooza ’96 by Metallica. I went with him and played keyboards and sang a few songs. That was the first time I sang on stage, and I was petrified. My dad was really such a cool dude, and great father to me. I miss him every day!
14. Did you really have a choice, or was music just something you picked up by being around it at such an early age?
I always loved music. But at an early age I wanted to be an animator. Like cel animation. And then i got into computers. I figured I’d make video games, or art. But then around twelve or thirteen it really clicked and I was hook-line-and-sinker into playing music. Never looked back, but now have just found ways to incorporate all that together into my art. But music was just around all the time, so I’m sure I really had not much of a choice to believe I could make a career out of playing music.
15. What is next in store for you? Any albums planned or tours coming up?
I’m on tour all year, and I’m having such a blast playing with my dad’s old band The Waymore’s Outlaws. We do Countach material and stuff from all the records. But I’m also doing shows with my Los Angeles band who was featured on the record. And boy do I love doing those shows. We get to tear the fucking house down. I am finishing producing an album on a very talented and beautiful young lady named Julie Roberts. Her career started around the same time as mine and I always kept my eye on her, she was the real deal and you could just feel it. So to have been able to do a record on her after all this time has been a true accomplishment to me. We’re in mix mode on that, so I don’t have a release date, but I’m looking forward to the world hearing it. Also on April 16th, as part of Record Store Day, a record I produced on a guy named Billy Don Burns called A Night in Room 8 is coming out. It was recorded entirely in room 8 at the Joshua Tree Inn, where Gram Parsons died. We recorded it on a Tascam Portastudio on cassette tapes and it sounds wild. Unbelievable songs from a guy who was around with Patsy Cline and Ernest Tubb, Wanda Jackson, Johnny Paycheck, you name em, he’s got stories on em. Great guy and incredible songwriter. Everyone should check that one out.