Chatter first heard of Nashville songwriter Rod Picott (pronounced py-cott) when Slaid Cleaves issued his 2001 breakout disc Broke Down. Picott, who grew up in Maine and played in a garage band with Cleaves, co-wrote the title track and eventual Americana Music Association song of the year winner.
Now a 16-year veteran of the Nashville scene, Picott recently released Welding Burns, his fifth solo album; he's also released an album with Texas fiddler Amanda Shires. Welding Burns is a suite of hard-edged blue-collar commentaries on everything from lost love to lost jobs to lost hope, and it reverberates with the issues of our time and the kinds of truths many of us never discover about ourselves.
Chatter caught up with the taciturn troubadour as he waited to board a flight at Dulles International Airport outside Washington, D.C.
Chatter: What are you doing in D.C.?
Rod Picott: My jeep broke down in the middle of West Virginia right in the middle of my tour. And when you're on tour, you've got so much stuff you can't just go jump on a plane. So I rented a car, drove back to Nashville with my stuff and for a gig, then drove back up here to do another gig and turn the car in. If things go right, I'll be home by nine tonight. It's been a brutal week.
C: Welding Burns is one of those albums that seem to have a theme and direction, as opposed to just being some random songs. Was that intentional or accidental?
RP: It wasn't intentional, but about halfway through I started to see similar themes popping up and thought I should go in that direction.
C: Some of these working songs, like "Sheetrock Hanger" and "Welding Burns," are very accurate, very detailed and specific. What made you go in those directions in your writing?
RP: I was always in a battle in my head about that because I actually was a sheetrocker until I was 35. As a writer, I've always been interested in that part of my life, what it's meant to my interior, but I denied it and couldn't figure out how to approach it for so long.
C: "410" is such a dark little song, the whole turning-to-crime-when-you-lose-your-job thing. Did that actually happen for you?
RP [laughs]: My dad actually gave me a .410 shotgun for Christmas when I was 12. The Moped of shotguns. It got him in real trouble with my mom. But I've always liked the way it sounds when you say it. And I really worked with some wild, crazy, hard characters when I was sheetrocking, and I just thought what would happen to a couple of those guys if they didn't have any work. I worked with lots of guys who didn't have many viable options.
C: Lots of people have tackled the working life and the working class, but Welding Burns seems to be one of the truest portraits I've encountered.
RP: Yeah, lots of people have written along these lines, but I don't think a lot of them really had the time in living it like I've had. Not to knock Springsteen, I love Bruce and his music, but if I remember correctly he only ever had one job in his life, working in a surfboard factory.
C: Another gripping, too-true song is "Your Father's Tattoo" with that wonderful line, 'might've broken your mother's heart once in a while, and you want to know and you kinda don't.' Is that biographical?
RP: My dad was a Marine, and that made him a bit of a hard guy. After he got out, he was happy painting houses, but my mom stayed after him and he finally went to the union hall and signed up and became an apprentice. After that he worked as a shipyard welder, which was a steady, respectable job.
As I was thinking about his life and writing that one, I came to realize that it's pretty universal; our parents seem so mundane to us but they've actually lived these rich, interesting, even complicated lives that they don't communicate to you. They don't know how.
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