Jim Lauderdale Interview 03-25-2017

Jim Lauderdale is a Renaissance Man when it comes to music & songwriting. He is a multi-Grammy award winner spanning many genres of music. I had the opportunity to sit down with him at this year’s Suwannee Spring Reunion at the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park for an interview.
Tom Wickstrom: Thank you for taking the time to talk to me today. I’ve seen you perform many times, both solo and with a band. I was really mesmerized by your performance with Verlon Thompson in the Music Hall at last Fall’s Roots Revival here at Suwannee. I love the humor. Is that something you come up with off the cuff?
Jim Lauderdale: Yes, on the spot. Verlon & I pass each other in Nashville. I don’t get to see him that much. This is one of the great opportunities to see Verlon and I love his set. He’s such an incredible guy that it’s easy to play off him & work with him. He’s really something.
TW: It just amazes me how well you guys seem to get along out there. Have you ever thought about doing a tour with him?
JL: I’d love to. Do me a favor and put out those feelers for us. That would be great.
TW: What’s your songwriting process and how does it differ when you’re working with someone like Robert Hunter?
JL: When I write with Robert Hunter, I either give him a melody and he gives me lyrics either in person or I email it to him and he sends me lyrics and I put a melody to them. For some reason we just click and work really fast together. Sometimes, if I’m in his presence I’ll come up with a melody as we’re talking, I’ll record it and send it to him and he’ll be in the other room working on it. I’ll work on another melody and he’ll come back in another 30-40 minutes and hand me another completed lyric. I’ll have another melody to go and he’ll take it back to his room. We made a few albums like that and I really love writing with him. It’s beyond words how great he is. When I write alone, I will get a song idea or melody and put it down on my phone or another recording device and later go back and listen to that melody. Sometimes I’ll have a title or one line or something but a lot of times I don’t even have a concept of what the song is about. It’s just a melody and then it all comes together later. Through trial and error I can find out what it’s not. I know it’s not about this or that, but it would be good about this so something will come out. A lot of times my writing is out of necessity. If I’ve booked studio time and I have musicians there, but a lot of times I have nothing at all. Maybe some kind of melody or a little bit. Maybe 1 idea if I’m lucky sometimes and then different things during lunch break or when the musicians are out of the room will come out or I’ll dig through old ideas I’ve laid down and I’ll think of something. Sometimes I’m a little more prepared but a lot of times it just happens while I’m there. It’s a lot of pressure that way. It’s enjoyable and fun once it finally comes through but before the song is finished lyrically and I just have the melody. It’s kind of an agonizing process for me, but then it comes together. I really have a lot of doubt until it’s done. Then it’s good.
TW: I have 2 of your CD’s with Robert Hunter. I enjoyed hearing you sing”Alligator Alley” earlier today. I also love “Wait Til Spring”, your CD with Donna The Buffalo. How did you guys come together?
JL: This place here was very important for us. I had met them on the road when I was on tour with Lucinda Williams. We were at the Newport Folk Festival and they had played earlier and I just saw this bunch of folks hanging around. I knew nothing about them but we immediately clicked. I really enjoyed hanging out, something was there and then I think it was at Merlefest that they put us together for a song. Then here, they asked me to get up and do some jamming with them, so we did a few things. Then I started coming up with these melodies for them. We’d play these melodies and I wouldn’t really even have the lyrics but they’d know the structure of the song. I’d just kind of make up things and some of those things stuck/worked and some didn’t. It kind of helped me with the process of writing things and eventually we had enough for an album of things I had written. We did some of the recording up there in Ithaca NY and then a lot of it down in Nashville when they came through. I’d really love to do another album with them. It’s way overdue. It’s been 10+ years I believe.
TW: Do you ever get political?
JL: You know it’s such a fine line. Many performers don’t say anything. It’s a strange position to be in because like all of us, you might have a relative or a close friend with an opposite view politically. At the end of the day, even though you might get put off with each other to some extent or think how can they think that way and they’re thinking the same thing of you. At the end of the day you know it’s not going to tear you apart from one another. I see so much anger sometimes when people express something very innocent or simple or basic and there is some big attack on them. I’m really concerned and saddened by the way things are going right now. I think it’s really important time for us all to educate ourselves as much as possible from all the different sides. From finding facts through certain channels, observing what other people’s take on things are. There’s such a wedge that’s been coming on for a long time. There’s such a divide when you do talk. It’s really hard sometimes to know what or I think we all assume someone thinks like we do. We’re having a casual conversation and it turns out not to be. It’s kind of funny really. We’ve got to get to a place where we are more tolerant and work together. I think the 2 parties and I think it’s been this way for a long time has made it into this constant battle or war. We’re living in the same country and we’ve got to find a way to work together. These aren’t casual times. There are real serious, I really believe that we have to environmentally get it together. It’s dangerous. This is really serious for the generations to come and our generation. The folks that are living now. It’s unprecedented the illnesses that are out there because of toxins, chemicals & poisons. I’ve always felt very strongly since I was a kid about the environment. I think that no matter what party you want to be in, I think people really have to accept the fact that we’ve scientifically proven this stuff. I think we need to spend as much or more money on research and science as well as things like infrastructure, helping create jobs for people and things like that. Let’s put it this way to make a long story interminable from your question. I think there are so many positive necessary important urgent things that we need to do as a country and a world. We’ve got to stop the bickering and get it together. Work together. We really do.
Well, thanks a lot. I guess we don’t have time to talk about music anymore now that i’ve gotten on my soapbox.
TW: You’ve done bluegrass albums/folk albums/country albums. Is there a style that you haven’t but would like to try?
JL: I haven’t done much Celtic type stuff. A few things here and there. I wrote an A Cappella song with Robert Hunter for this acoustic record of our collaborations. A little acoustic thing that was that kind of feel. A Celtic kind of ballad. As far as something brand new, I haven’t done any kind of jazz album, I’ve done jazzy type songs but not a whole album’s worth. I’d like to do that.
TW: I saw the Music City Roots show on PBS where you went to Ireland and can see why you have some interest in Celtic music.
JL: Yes. That’s where my family, a lot of my bloodline is Scotch/Irish.
TW: Is there anyone you haven’t worked with that you’d like to?
JL: This is the funniest thing. Every time someone asks me that question, I kind of go blank and then later it comes to me. For some reason my mind clicks off. Yes. There are people I want to work with.
TW: New music coming up?
JL: I have a record coming out the end of June that I did in England a few years ago with the band of Nick Lowe, a great British rock & roll guy. It’s been done but I keep doing other records and waiting for that stuff to all fall in place. It’s out in Europe right now. It’s called “London Southern”. I did find some lost tapes that one of my bluegrass heroes, Roland White & I had recorded in 1979. It would have been my first record but I couldn’t get a record deal for it and then we couldn’t find the recordings. He found the recordings a few months ago, so i’ll put that out. I’m slowly been working on new stuff too.
TW: You stay very busy.
JL: My passion is to make records and sometimes it doesn’t make sense to make records or as many as I do but that’s what I like. Even though sometimes I don’t like it. It’s a terrible process but  it’s my job kind of in a way.
TW: Final question. What has music taught you about yourself?
JL: That is too personal! This interview is over! (joking) What has music taught me about myself? It runs the whole gamut of emotions that kind of mentally challenges me. It goes from feelings or a feel or a kind of a zone that transcends a lot of things or it can be a craftsmanship thing. A lot of different things go into doing and creating music that sometimes is a magical kind of things and sometimes it’s disappointing. It’s that yin & yang of a lot of different stuff. also, listening to music and just enjoying it kind of helps so many things. It’s life for me. It’s just a whole different language, kind of this encompassing thing that you expose yourself to that you can really get carried away with and lost and then found in hearing music. It’s what it brings out of you. When you listen to music it touches a lot of different feelings, thoughts & things. When you create music, it’s this great kind of drink or food or high I’ll get by hearing something I love to hear. It has this affect on you physically, mentally & spiritually. We all have to have it. It’s like water.
TW: Thank you very much for your time.
JL: You’re welcome. That will be $374.I accept all major cards and cash. (Joking. I think)
Jim Lauderdale with Donna The Buffalo Suwannee Fall Roots Revival 2016
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