Jason Isbell: Tied To The Mast

I love that Amy Winehouse record. I think that's amazing. I always find myself going back to In the Aeroplane Over the Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel, which I listen to three or four times a week every week. Of course, I love Centro-matic.
-Jason Isbell

The Southern Thing

"It's in the subject matter and the way I approach recording and playing music. It's just gonna be there. I didn't choose to be from the South but I'm gonna have to deal with it, one way or another. It winds up in there, and I'm proud of that," says the Greenville, Alabama native. "I think Southern rock is almost a redundancy. Even my favorite artists who aren't from the South try to sound that way sometimes. I don't necessarily think what the Truckers do is Southern rock."

Isbell & Hood :: Drive-By Truckers
2005 by Dave Vann
Given how the Truckers frequently trot out New York poet-rocker Jim Carroll's "People Who Died" it's clear there's more to them than moonshine and chitlins.

"That should let people know you're not Molly Hatchet [laughs]. I think what the Truckers were doing, and are still doing, is exploring the more interesting, darker stories from the South that don't usually end up in Southern rock," comments Isbell. "That's what Southern Rock Opera is all about. People have a hard time understanding framework when you're making an album. They can understand it in a novel or a poem but if you're singing a song and you say 'I' or 'me' people think it's you. That's kind of hard to come to terms with as a writer. If you grew up listening to Randy Newman and things like that then you know the narrator isn't always trustworthy. I don't know if he emerges much in his songs. There's always a little bit about yourself in every song but I don't think you ever hear Randy Newman talk about Randy Newman."

It's this kind of observation that makes one hesitate to read too much autobiography into a Sirens gem like "Hurricanes and Hand Grenades" [the only things strong enough to get a woman off the narrator's mind]. If this were a vinyl release "Hurricanes" would kick off a killer "Side B" of a very complete, thoughtfully sequenced album, despite the four year journey it took to completion.

"CDs don't really work that way anymore. It was the one time when the stoned guy on the couch is gonna have to get up and go over to the record player, so you better give him something worth getting up for [laughs]. Consistency is not something that's as valued as it used to be. People are looking for singles more than entire records made of quality. Even some of my favorite artists are guilty of that. There's a lot of filler on records today," laments Isbell.

Jason Isbell
Another thing one picks up on with Sirens is all the new places Isbell goes as a vocalist, showing a range his Truckers work only hinted at, and happily recalling swamp master Tony Joe White in places.

"That's definitely something I was going for, most obviously on 'Down In A Hole,' but there's lots of places I was trying to get [White's] familiarity between the artist and the audience," he says. "One of the drummers on the record, Mike Dillon [Les Claypool, GoGo Jungle], was doing a session with Tony Joe around the same time we were doing [Sirens]. Mike was in an isolated booth behind glass and Tony Joe was in the main room playing guitar and singing. And Mike was doing an upstroke thing on the snare drum that kind of echoed what Tony Joe was doing on the guitar. They went through a couple passes and Tony Joe turned around, slid the glass door open, and said, 'Hey, that ain't right. That ain't ever right.' [laughs]."

Besides a little sonic overlap, Isbell shares White's indestructibly sturdy craftsmanship, a solidity and truthfulness that gives his music long legs. Though only just getting to his first album under his own name, Isbell strikes one as a musical lifer who has the best interest of our ears at heart.

"You've got to be honest with the people listening to your music" says Isbell, "because they'll figure it out if you're not."

JamBase | Deep South
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[Published on: 7/12/07]

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mhc10 Thu 7/12/2007 06:47PM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Got the album on Tuesday and it's everything I expected and then some. Love Jason with the DBT, but happy for him that he is going out on his own. Saw him play an in-store performance in May and kicked some major ass. Can't wait till Louisville.
Go get the album!!!!!!

Chaloupka starstarstarstarstar Thu 7/12/2007 11:43PM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


Can't wait to see the 400 Unit in Denver!!

aquariumdrunk starstarstarstarstar Fri 7/13/2007 07:26AM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


Ditto, man.

I think the Larimer is the ideal venue for 'em.

dannymo Fri 7/13/2007 07:29AM
Show -4 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!
kellerisafeller Fri 7/13/2007 08:23AM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


i love this guy..ive met him backstage plenty times with the rest of DBT and he is a badass with and witout dbt!!

Summer starstarstarstar Fri 7/13/2007 11:55AM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


He is one of the best new song writers today. The last track on the album is amazing. Already seen two shows of the tour and the 400 unit is awesome as well. I am expecting big things.

‹^› ‹(•¿•)› ‹^› {¬¿¬} starstarstarstarstar Fri 7/13/2007 01:12PM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

‹^› ‹(•¿•)› ‹^›      {¬¿¬}

If u cannot say anything nice, do not say.........

kaiserbun starstarstarstarstar Fri 7/13/2007 02:44PM
+4 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

this guy is really good, nice article. i love him quoting the duane allman line as well, that's always been one of my favorite quotes from a musician. it would be cool if they wrote up a story about the legacy of duane allman on here. not enough people realize how badass he was.

willm1 Fri 7/13/2007 04:16PM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


yeah im listening to the new album right now it kicks ass. i have always loved isbell i wish he was still in the truckers but wish him the greatest luck on his own.

Putnameter starstarstarstarstar Mon 7/16/2007 01:32PM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


I saw Isbell play his Plan 9 in store performance the other day and it was fuckin brilliant. Awesome singer, awesome guitarist and awesome songwriter! By God hes got soul...keep pickin'

D14 starstarstarstarstar Mon 7/16/2007 01:33PM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


Talk about honest. Isbell will give it to ya everytime. I haven't seen a lot of hype about this album, but it deserves everything it gets. Looking forward to seeing him in Nashville yet again.

MaseBase starstarstarstarstar Wed 7/18/2007 02:21PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


Just checked out the album and I really dig it. Some of the songs really have a similar sound to Slaid Cleaves... very nice. I'm not a huge DBT fan, but think this is a great album.

RothburyWithCheese starstarstarstarstar Wed 7/25/2007 02:28PM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


Saw him at SXSW. Wonderful! Cant wait for the Mohawk show!!

Chaloupka starstarstarstarstar Fri 8/10/2007 12:43AM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


Whoa! Just caught the 400 Unit @ the Larimer Lounge in Denver, and they rocked the holy hell out of the place!

krazedmika starstarstarstar Fri 5/2/2008 05:06AM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

i just got this album and it is amazing. i love Jason. I think that he is so talented. he actually did some really awesome interviews that people should totally check out.