Shooter Jennings (Photo: Frederick M. Brown)Shooter Jennings may be known for his status spearheading all things outsider in the music world--the son of outlaw legends Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter, he champions artists that don't fit in traditional molds, shuns the Nashville machine in favor of Los Angeles, and generally operates on his own wavelength without variation. It could be forgiven that one might assume he's somewhat prickly--or at least unpredictable--in person.
However, nothing could be further than the truth. In the flesh, he's actually an extraordinary low-key kind of guy. When Jennings arrived at Yahoo! Music for his Ram Country session, he brought nothing but his jeans-clad self and a guitar--no entourage, no special requests.
He arrived early, explaining that he'd just dropped his young daughter off at school. And, he left ahead of schedule too, after giving a carefree--but flawless--solo performance of the title track from his new album, The Other Life. He also offered up a friendly interview peppered equally with jokes and sharp takes on the music industry.
If this is outlaw, he'd sure make a good in-law. Just don't let your mom listen to his outlaw country show on Sirius XM, Electric Rodeo...the language can be a bit salty.
"Mojo Nixon is way worse than I am with the cussing," protests Jennings. "I've been doing this show almost 7 years, so I was like 25 or something when I first started doing it, I was just like 'f--- this, f--- that.' I used to get people writing in like 'Screw you, old man!' Now I find less reason to cuss on there. But if I get all riled up I will--it's radio-free America, man!"
This independent attitude translates to Jennings's latest album, which he's releasing in conjunction with a new film of the same name. The visual part of the project features a short, dark, eerie tale of a man's journey of self-discovery. Six of the songs on the album move the film's soundtrack along, yet Jennings is adamant that his new set is not a concept record.
"To me, the visual side of things has been so important and it's a real shame that we don't have real MTVs or stuff like that anymore," he explains of his decision to helm up the movie. "Because I really feel like we're in a time when people are able to independently make such bigger projects."
Both film and album had brewed in Jennings's mind for some time now. "I had half of [the album] done during the sessions for my last record in 2011. So as it was coming into fruition and throughout 2012 we were cutting more songs and kind of finishing it," he notes. "Blake Judd, who is a video director--who I have worked with on three videos before, and a good friend--he said, 'Hey man, why don't we try to take the idea of doing a bunch of videos and make it one big piece.' And so we started throwing ideas back for videos and how they could tie together, and it resulted in him writing this idea for an outline."
After finessing the groundwork, "We handed it off to a guy named RD Hall, who is from Kentucky and writes for a lot of graphic novels and comic books and things like that. He kind of took this idea we had and wrote it out, and so we're looking at it and we're like 'This thing is weird, but it's cool, I wonder if we can pull it off.'"
Weird but cool is an apt way to describe the dialogue-free, musically powered project, which Jennings notes "starts out very normal and just snowballs into the abyss." He says he wishes he could have created a similar visual project to accompany his heralded 2010 concept album Black Ribbons, a much-lauded opus featuring contributions from horror genius Stephen King.
"When I did Black Ribbons…we wrote a script to it, and came up with this whole thing. We pursued trying to make a part-animated film, part-real film to it but we couldn't really get the funding for it," Jennings explains. "I had all the pieces in place … I still am determined to do that because not enough people know that Black Ribbons came out. So I'd love to make a visual counterpart to that record. We'll see."
Aside from his forays into film (he's also currently working on producing a film about his famed father--"I think I have a better idea of how to do it than other people," he admits), Jennings continues to keep busy seeking out, spotlighting, and collaborating with musicians that fly under the radar.
He claims the term "outlaw country" is "pretty worn out" at this point, but that there's plenty of underground talent to be discovered. "I really feel like there's a movement there. I don't know if it would be nice for all these artists to get their due, because they are so much more real than anything that gets put out of Nashville--or anywhere for that matter," he explains. "All we can do is hope that that would happen. But of course, once it comes out it would get blown out and exploited and all that and copied."
"For me, once I discovered all of that stuff, I can't really listen to anything else because it feels like a new punk-rock movement or something. I don't know how to explain it, but it feels like something really different."