Shooter Jennings On The Tarot, Stephen King, Crappy Radio And Frankenstein
Here at Rocks Off, we like to make sure all our bases are covered. That's why we asked Shooter Jennings, son of Waylon, a few questions about his band Hierophant's spooky, deep, spooky-deep new album Black Ribbons (right) and put them in this week's print edition of the Press. That way, in case the CIA, Al Gore or whoever is in charge of the Internet decides to throw the switch and the whole thing goes dark there's still some record of our conversation. But since it's still working, here's the rest of it... Rocks Off: Was there something specific that gave you the concept for this album? Shooter Jennings: Not as much as sort of the whole circumstance. I was driving cross-country - this is kind of the crux of it. We relocated, we had been in New York since before [daughter] Bama was born, while Dre [girlfriend Drea de Matteo] was pregnant and we had this plan to move to L.A. for me to start a new record, kind of planning all of it. I had written some songs. But we did this RV trip for our bulldog, Charlie Rose, who can't fly because it's too big. So once every couple of years we drive cross-country, which is kind of an awesome moment. That's how it happened, and the economy kind of collapsed during our drive. It was kind of the whole experience of listening to late-night radio and driving cross-country and being tripped out by the entire situation. That was kind of the theme of the album. The rest of it, the music and all that stuff was kind of its own experience to go along with that. RO: Things like Art Bell and stuff like that? SJ: Yeah, man. When I was young I was a huge fan of that. RO: Coast to Coast, I guess he's not on there anymore. SJ: Yeah, it's George Nouri now. RO: Where did the tarot come in? SJ: The cards? RO: Yeah, and just some of the symbolism too.
SJ: The symbolism really began - the Hierophant thing began with this lady Ana Brava, who lives with me and Dre. She, like, raised Dre; she's a 75-year-old Nicaraguan woman. She reads cards, and has always done that. She was reading Dre's cards one day - like a lot of the cool names and ideas and stuff for this record came from her, because I would be in the studio working, and I was looking for a band name, I was looking for a name for the guy, there were a lot of details that I was needing. During the process, while I was working on the music, I would come home and she would have a lot of ideas and have done a lot of research, and that's where a lot of the names came from. Will o' the Wisp came from that. Hierophant - she was getting her cards read and that card flipped over, and she was infatuated to know what it meant. We looked it up and at first I was kind of like, wasn't sure about that as a band name. I was trying to figure out the perfect name for this weird band name and the album, but that one ended up sticking, because it was so confusing, and it wasn't what you would expect. It wasn't thrills or anything. It was a very odd name for a band - it basically sent me straight to Google. RO: I was going to ask if that's a made-up word, but I guess it's not. SJ: No, it's not. There's a Hierophant card in the tarot deck, which is also the pope card. That's basically this kind of... like a priest of some sort, but it's kind of a dude who gives up his whole life and whatnot to spread the gospels or whatever. In this case it kind of stuck and rang true, and I really liked it. And there's a lot of the imagery in the tarot deck, a lot of stuff's going on, but it's really kind of the extent of what I got into when I started digging into like the counterculture, politics and all these different things. I've always been a big fan of - like with Art Bell. That tackles ghosts and the occult, UFOs and all kinds of aspects of this kind of subculture of America, which I've always been infatuated with, so it all kind of goes along with that. RO: Did you give Stephen King any specific instructions for his part or was it all pretty much him off the cuff?
SJ: I was completely willing for him to write the whole thing, and kind of come up with his own stuff. I could tell from our conversation that he had an idea of what I was looking for, but I thought it would just be easier if I sent him a rough draft idea, and I basically wrote up like what I imagined it being like, and he liked that a lot and took that and changed it. It made it a lot better, but the way it's written is true to the original thing that I sent him. I think he liked the idea of how sad the whole deal was. He was just extremely gracious to be dealing with my punk ass, bugging him in his busy day, going, "Hey, will you do this thing again?" RO: You're pretty outspoken about commercial radio on your Electric Rodeo show. Do you think that's hurt your chances of airplay at all? SJ: I don't know. I can bash on this, that and the other, but I never really am trying to... I don't know. I think that I've hurt my chances long before I opened my mouth. I don't know what the deal is. Too much heredity. No, I mean, I'm not selling them down the river, saying this is the worst establishment on the planet, but at the same time, it kind of is, and the songs that make it, the state of it all, it's pretty bad, so maybe I've hurt my chances. I don't know.
I'm not lying, and everybody knows the fact is that what is going on on the radio is pretty much BS. It's a tough gamut in rock and country. Country's in a horrible place, because there's this whole side of country that always rears its ugly pop head every five years and perpetuates the state of it staying in a shitty place all the time. Rock is just as bad. You have a handful of bands that become really big buzz bands, like Vampire Weekend and these kind of bands, and you really... I don't know. It depends on the station. It would be fantastic if there were more stations like 101.9 in New York. We had this 103.1 in L.A., which was a great station, but now the only options are classic rock and KROQ, which just plays Sublime and 10-year-old music. Or 15-year-old music. Like every time I turn it on, it's either Linkin Park or that one song - it's so random, but it's always on the radio here - "Flagpole Sitta" by Harvey Danger. Do you remember that song? It's that song, or it's Sublime, or it's that "Brain Stew" song every ten minutes. That's what KROQ plays, or they'll play "Dani California" by Red Hot Chili Peppers, and then maybe every once in a while a new song by some kind of new band. RO: Is there any way to fix it? SJ: I think it fixes itself in a way, in the cycles that we see. Obviously the way that the radio is set up these days, you know, ClearChannel and all that kind of stuff, I think all that is a big problem, but it's a separate problem. I think that what kind of happens with radio and music and everything is that it kind of finds its new niches. I think the radio is less important than it used to be, too. We're in this period of time that's really good for art, but it's not very good for commerce. Labels have no idea what to do; everybody's trying fancy, jumping-the-shark tricks with records, trying to figure out the next way to capitalize on the Internet, but the reality is that labels are done. Anyone can do a record now. It's a weird time. It's like there's more freedom than there ever was with music, and there's never a question of, like back in the day when you couldn't do anything without a label and they had this power. You can do everything without a label now. You can do more than you can do with a label without one.
But there's so much music out there, there's so much going on, that I feel like the whole Internet phase of the business is just being born, and we're gonna see a whole different side of that as time goes on. It's organic. I think it fixes itself to some degree. I think at some point some band or something will come along and will save us, maybe. Maybe not. RO: I heard you had a sister down in Houston. SJ: Oh yeah, Tommy Lynn. My sister lives in Houston, and the last three times we've been there we've played at the racetrack, like with Jack Ingram and some other things. So every time we get there I get to see her and my niece. RO: What's one non-musical thing you and your dad liked to do? SJ: Man. Funny, we used to watch scary movies together. When I was a little kid, like little, literally, like six, seven, eight years old, they'd put me to bed and later at night he'd be like, "Hey, Frankenstein's on TV. You want to come downstairs and watch it?" I'd go downstairs and get the shit scared out of me. I'd run back upstairs, shivering. That was one of the fonder memories. There were a lot of things that we did, but we always used to like to watch scary movies together. With !Outernational!, 6:30 p.m. Friday, April 9, at Wired Live (Channel Room), 1503 Chartres, 713-225-1717 or www.wiredlivehouston.com.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.