It’s not every Wednesday I have the chance to speak with a Grammy winner. But this past Wednesday, I did.
And, to my surprise, the guy I spoke with was a down to earth, funny dad with an empowering message to share with anyone who is chasing their dream. (Spoiler alert: it’s to keep going.)
AltDaily: Hey, Jason! Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me today. How’s it going? Are you living the dream?
Jason Isbell: Yeah, I am living the dream. I’m at the car dealership right now getting my wife’s oil changed right now. She’s on tour in Europe — as long as one of us is living the dream, the other one can have the oil changed. That’s the dream. It’s a team effort.
Damn, I love that. That’s right, you were just in Europe last week, right?
Yeah, I was. I went over to see my wife. I played a little bit… I had a week off so I went to London first and did a couple days of press.
Sweet. When do you get back on the road?
I leave in the morning for about a week then I’m home again. We’re doing a week or so this month and then a week or so next month. Then we go out heavily in June when the new album, The Nashville Sound, comes out.
How long have you been playing music?
Professionally, I’ve been touring for 16 years. I’ve been playing in some capacity since I was six or seven years old.
Did you start off on guitar?
First was a mandolin. My grandfather played a lot of instruments and he gave it to me when I was about six because my hands were too small for the guitar. Later, I upgraded.
Did you have a feeling you were meant for music?
You know, it’s hard at six to know much of anything but yeah, it’s the only thing I wanted to do. I never wanted to be an astronaut or anything. It really was the only thing I wanted to do. For many people who have success in music, they never really considered another job.
I imagine there have been ups and downs. As an adult did you consider anything else?
Did I consider anything else? Other than just dying — no, that’s it. Never came close to reentering the workforce.
I did other jobs before I got any steady work making music or writing songs. I pushed buggies at Walmart and worked at a firework factory. Nothing I took seriously.
What kept you going during the challenging times?
Persistence. There’s a quote by Calvin Coolidge: “Persistence. Nothing in the world will take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than an unsuccessful man with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”
I loved the work… the traveling got hard. Traveling in a band and sleeping on floors could get difficult, but I always loved performing and writing songs. And writing can be like pulling teeth.
Traveling got better when I got older, when I was in my 30s. I think that’s important; when you’re 30 and still riding in a van you have to reconsider.
What does it feel like to you to be on stage?
Um, nowadays — it’s very comfortable. It’s a controlled environment. We have a big crew, everything sounds the same from night to night. I’m comfortable, I’m free to create. There’s a lot of positive energy. I don’t drink anymore and I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed being on stage as much as I do now. Being up there, it runs the gamut of emotions. The music you’re making is reflecting life; it’s honest. There are moments you laugh, moments you try not to cry, and everything in between.
Not gonna lie, it feeds my ego. I love big crowds. But even in a shitty bar, I love it. If I can hear myself sing and the rest of the band, then I’m a happy camper.
Do you have a message or something you want your audience to take away?
No. My message for people not in my audience is: get in my goddamn audience!
If you could have a billboard and write anything you wanted on it, what would you write?
Well I can, but I’m yet to do that. But if I was forced to write something, what would I write? I think I would write Calvin Coolidge’s quote about persistence. It’s good for people to know.
The way you just took that question makes me think that you’re pretty mindful. You pay attention to wording and personal power.
I try to be that way. Most of the times I am, sometimes I’m not. That’s my job — to notice things others wouldn’t. Then, I have the ability to make those things into beautiful songs that people want to listen to. It’s a two part job. Number one, pay attention and see things from an uncommon angle. Number two, put a melody to it and make it enjoyable.
Is there anything you really want to say that I didn’t ask you about?
No, I probably would’ve tweeted it already if there was. I will say, last night I stayed up really late putting together this toy kitchen because I have a little girl who’s almost two and she loves to cook. It had hundreds of details, these little pieces, and I realized for the first time since I was child why my dad stopped buying me complicating things.
Oh trust me I get it. There’s a five foot tall Frozen castle in my living room.
Oh, ok. You do get it. If there’s something everyone should know, it’s that the worst part of parenting is building stuff with all the little pieces. If I was a college kid, I would start a business of just adding tons of tiny pieces to things to drive parents crazy.
Jason will be at the Portsmouth Pavilion on Wednesday April 26 at 7:30pm. His newest album, The Nashville Sound, comes out June 16th. For more info or tickets, click here.
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