Shooter Jennings has played by his own set of rules and always done his things the way he saw fit. He grew up with a Family Tree deeply rooted and of music royalty for parents…Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter. He is engaged to Emmy award winner Drea de Matteo and they have two children together. Shooter continues to write and record his style of music and his most recent release “Family Man” is a must have. He has also lent his talent to other artist’s projects and has the hit show “Electric Rodeo” in Outlaw Country on SiriusXM radio.
TEN recently caught up with Shooter at a local establishment in Petal MS. for a preshow interview, cocktails and a bite to eat, where he talked about his career, his forthcoming “The Other Life” cd and project and what his priorities were in a house with famous parents.
TEN– Your latest cd “Family Man” is a huge success and you must be very proud. What inspires you to write your music?
Shooter Jennings– Thanks! “Huge success” might be pushing it a little bit…
TEN– Every song on the cd is good.
SJ– Well thank you, well… in that way thank you. I am proud of it in that way. This record was a real different step for me, because I put together a different band do it. I had been working with the .357s my whole solo career. Those dudes are still friends of mine but at the time, I went to New York and spent a lot of time there where I ran into this guy Erik Deutsch who is a piano player and unfortunately is not with us tonight. He and I went to elementary school together but I hadn’t seen him in about 20 years. I had finished the ”Black Ribbons” record, which I’m very proud of and I love. But I just kinda wanted to take a step somewhere and really reconnecting with Erik was the step that I needed. He and I started hanging out and we had really gotten into the singer/songwriters and really wanted to do something simple. Steve Young who wrote “Montgomery In The Rain” and all these other amazing songs and I had become friends and he was really kinda helping me. What was weird about” Black Ribbons” is as proud of that record as I am, it was like a blow to some degree. I did damage to my overall career with that record. I’m really proud of it and proud that I did that and went through it cause it is very much me. I think it kinda weeded out a lot of people who might have had other expectations of me. I came out of that feeling that it was pretty much a failure in away. We did a poorly planned tour around it even though it was a lot of fun…some weird shit went down. So when I was comin outta that, I was pretty shaky and Steve really helped me out a lot. Erik kinda took me into his world and I met a bunch of musicians in New York who are just really incredible from the roots/jazz scene.
I just sat down and started writing a lot of songs and we ended up going in and recording more than what’s on the record. In fact, five of the ones that aren’t on this record will be on my next record. They were chosen on purpose as to which ones went on which record because they kinda fit the tone of it. Actually, my favorites are on the next one. It was the first time that I was producing myself. I went in with a bunch of guys who had only just met me and kinda knew me for who I was in that moment. You know, like with a girlfriend. You know when you date someone for a long time, they know you for the person who you were back then and then you kinda change over time, whether they change with you or not. When you start with somebody else, it’s like you’re starting with the man it is you are now, you worry, you know?
So I went into this situation a different man and it kinda allowed me to feel like I could go any way I wanted with it. I kinda wanted really to go quieter with it in a way even though there some rock stuff. The new record is definitely more that, but we’ll get into that later. “Family Man” I just wanted to set out there and make a record… I didn’t know it was going to sound as country as it did. To be honest with you, I thought it was going to send more like a singer/songwriter “John Prine” kinda record than it did. I was pleased that it came out to be as through and through country as it was. I appreciate you saying that you like all the songs on it, man.
TEN– It’s so different than ”Black Ribbons.”
SJ– I like that. I like makin people not know what they’re gonna get next because that’s how I am anyway. It’s like one mood to the next. The one thing about “The Other Life” that I will say is that I feel like it’s the first time that all of the elements are brought in one record to some degree. I think the next step in me figuring out myself to not separate as much and just blend it all together and the like: “This is whatcha get!”
TEN– I read that the release date has been pushed back due to a very complicated visual entertainment undertaking…
SJ– Yes, February. Yea…yea…yea.
TEN– Can you talk about that?
SJ– I can…but it’s pretty much under wraps. It has a lot to do what with what the record is about. Again it’s the flip side to “Family Man.” It’s a little darker; it’s got some other elements into it that “Family Man” just didn’t have. It goes to a lot of different places. It’s got really crazy surprises.
TEN– When you play live; will you have some kind of multimedia experience intertwining with the music?
SJ– I don’t know, maybe. It would be nice to do that. It would be nice to pull that off. Again, it’s like a really weird, dark piece that tells a story. We’ve kind of jumped off the “Cliff of Craziness” doing it. I think we are definitely doing something that’s gonna make the needle jump a little bit. People are not gonna see it comin.
TEN– How will you release it?
SJ– Nobody has ever really done what we’re trying to do before so were trying to figure out the exact way to implement that. We gotta figure out a way to service people in a way that hadn’t been done. We’re in a different age, I feel that visual is so important. It’s kinda heavy, it’s pretty trippy. It’s a little dark but it’s definitely an adventure. I can’t wait to see it.
TEN– What inspired you to come up with the idea for the project?
SJ– The music was almost done; I’ll say it was three quarters done when the idea came up. The guy from the label, Van Fletcher, is an old friend of mine and my general manager at Universal really kinda saved me by picking up ”Family Man,” allowing myself the paired with someone who really believed in it. With “Black Ribbons” the label that we were on I mean they were nice guys and stuff, but they didn’t know me, they didn’t have a real frame of reference with me. It was lot of like shots in the dark being fired. Originally, “Family Man” was gonna be on another label but Van came in and said: “Come work with me! I would way rather spend money on you guys doing a bunch of videos, instead of spending it on trying to get stuff on country radio that’s never gonna get played.” That set off the fireworks and me and Blake Judd got together and came up with this whole thing. We went in and executed it. Blake and his team executed it so well and I’m excited to see what people think about it. I think that whole “Black Ribbons” crowd will be very into the counterpart piece.
TEN– So…I gotta know what this project is. Will you tell me?
SJ– Maybe…off the record.
*(Editor’s note, Shooter motions for me to turn off the recorder and then proceeds to tell me in great detail about the project. Let me tell you what I can, we are all in for one hell of a ride!)
TEN– What was it like working with Stephen King on ”Black Ribbons?”
SJ– It was awesome! You know I never met him or talked to him on the phone, it was all e-mail. We wrote each other the whole time. It was a really cool experience, man. When I finally got in touch with him, he was into it. We e-mailed back and forth and then all of a sudden one day I got this package with all the parts done and I put it into the album. He was like: “Man, I don’t know what anybody is going to think about this, but I think it’s pretty cool!” And I was like “Alright!” I’m a big fan of him and always have been. Ever since then he has always been incorporated somehow in my stuff. There’s a little bit of “Stephen King” on this thing (“The Other Side”) too. Not him, himself, but there’s definitely a nod to him in this thing. I’m in big fan and of course what he did for me with “Black Ribbons” so, yeah, it’s a little bit like that. I definitely think it’s going to take you by surprise.
TEN– What percent of your songs are autobiographical?
SJ– Probably 99.999%. Pretty much everything I write has to be that way. It’s very rare that I write a song that’s not. The “Black Dog” obviously is not, but I think every other single song on that record is autobiographical. As I have gotten older, it’s become easier for me to be that way. I mean “Put The O Back In Country” is not autobiographical, “Daddy’s Farm” is not true but pretty much everything else on that record was. I saw a thing on Bruce Springsteen one time with that “Promise” movie that came out. He was talking about how when you start writing, you start writing by being driven 100% by your instincts and a lot of times you make missteps as a writer… like you don’t know where to go. As time goes on, the experience starts to take over. As a songwriter, there are songs that I will listen to now or I will be like” Eh, that line was a little…” I didn’t know what else to write so I just threw in a line. But now I feel like I’ve gotten to a place in writing where I am able to kinda tap how I feel and know how it’s supposed to spread out among versus and parts and things like that. I’m really into the art of songwriting and kind of crafting and doing things differently…odd arrangements and things like that but making it feel “normal.” Like with “The Black Dog,” that’s a funny example because I wanted to write a ghost story in a song. I started digging around for like an old Civil War ghost story and I found a website called “themoonlitroad.com” and I went on there. It’s like a modern-day writer’s collective of ghost stories and there was this one story on their called: “The Black Dog” about a miner’s dog that was a ghost, trying to lead people to save the miner. It was so scary in the beginning and then had this heartwarming, sad tale at the end of it and I was like, “That’s perfect!” It took the six months to figure out how to adapt that into a melody and move it along. Some people hate that song. I have some people either love it and I’ve had the like: “I can’t even listen to that fuckin song. It’s too long.” Different breeds of people. But, most of the time otherwise it’s always coming from the experience. I can’t fake something, I can’t write a love song about somebody I don’t love. I can’t write a song about being drunk because I’m broken up with when I haven’t been broken up with someone and being drunk. It always comes from a real place.
TEN– How did you come up with the concept for your video for the song “The Real Me?”
SJ– That was all Blake Judd’s idea. We were going to go shoot three videos, one of them was ”The Black Dog” but we got into it and it was the third one we were shooting and we were like “OK, this is way too ambitious. Let’s step back from this; we don’t have the money for this.” Blake and I did the “Outlaw You” video together and we were going to go tackle a couple more. One of them was going to be “The Deed & The Dollar.” I had the idea for that, the concept of that. He had an idea for “The Real Me” about how we were all going to be in this church with the snake handlers and I loved it, man. He pulled that whole video off for zero dollars! That video with all those people cost zero dollars! My mom saw that video and was like: “What were you on?” (Laughs) “It’s Blake’s fault mom!” I said.
TEN– I like the fact that you’re up there in front of the congregation…
SJ– Yeah, I’m up there singing about what a bad person I am and everybody is saying yeah I’m a bad person too.
TEN– Yeah, and they’re looking at each other and some are lusting after one another and whatnot and you’re standing up there like “Don’t judge me!”
SJ– That was Blake’s whole thing. I love our friendship because he and I are a real team. It’s been just awesome to meet somebody like that and just dive off that cliff with somebody as a partner whose focus is just makin visual things. We kinda helped each other out because he had been doin videos with tons of awesome underground bands and EPKs. I got him into my thing, and then Van met him on the Bucky (Covington) video. By the time it came for us to do our opus, we were geared up, ready to go and had a support team.
TEN– It was cool to see the guy playing the preacher do his thing and then kinda nods to you to get up and do your thing.
SJ– That dude is a singer in one of the coolest bands ever that has walked the earth. Their called The Legendary Shack Shakers and they’re from Kentucky. They’ve been around for a long time…lower Broadway scene like before Hank 3 was around. Joe Buck was in their band. The guy’s name is Col. JD Wilkes and he also has another band with his wife called The Dirt Daubers, which is another fantastic, fuckin band. He and Blake are tight and it was a real honor to get to have him in that video. It was a lot of fun.
TEN– Your song “The Deed & The Dollar” has a very heartfelt vibe to it. I think a lot of people including myself can relate to it.
SJ– I appreciate that. Sappy love songs kinda suck you know. A lot of times it’s hard to write a good love song. What ended up happening with that was having a comedic angle to the lines I think is what kinda made it be lighthearted enough to land a heavy love emotion in it. It’s how I felt when I wrote it. I mean, yea, that’s how I feel. When we were doing the video, I sent Blake the opening for the Muppet movie where Kermit is on the log singing “The Rainbow Connection” and told him that’s what it’s gotta be. That’s how that came about. He texted me like 10 min. later and said; “Will this log work?” I’m a sucker for good love song and in this case it was kind of a little ditty I wrote for Drea.
TEN– Will “The Other Life” include a “Manifesto No. 3?”
SJ– Have you heard “No. 3?”
TEN– Just live videos on YouTube.
SJ– There is a live version of it that I include on my “Miss The Boat’s” section on my website. I put the live version of it on their but there is no studio recorded version of that song. I really like it, but once we got into this record and had already written the other song… The other song originally wasn’t going to be a manifesto but I was like, ‘It totally needs to be one.” I like the fact that we skipped it but there is a super secret “3” that certain people have figured out where it is. I’ve always said that maybe one day I will have like 10 of them and then we can put out an album of just the 10 songs…then I’ll record a “No. 3.” I just keep going with them. It started as just a one thing…
TEN– “Manifesto No.1” is such a crazy, popular song of yours. If you watch your videos of it on YouTube, as soon as you start the song, the crowd goes crazy.
SJ– Yea man, that was kind of the beginning of it. It’s funny how that happened. It was just a funny little song that turned into one of the fan favorites. There is no manifesto on “The Other Life” but there will be more.
TEN– What’s the coolest part about being you?
SJ– Shit…man, getting to hang out with dudes like you! How bout that? I’m fortunate to have a great life, great kids and everything like that. It’s also exhausting too. I got a good family and friends and that’s one thing I’m really happy for. It’s hard these days to really make money doing what we’re doing out here but it’s really awesome to establish a space to really do whatever I want and continue to do that…push the envelope ya know. I feel very fortunate to even be me. I can’t brag about it or anything. I feel like an asshole bragging about anything. (Laughs)
TEN– You mentioned Hank 3 earlier. I interviewed him in 2007 and March of this year. We talked about you and him. How is your relationship now?
SJ– What did he say in March of this year? You know, he sent me a package and I love to know what he said.
TEN– I brought a printed copy for you to read.
SJ– Good. (Shooter then reads the part of the interview) Well, that’s cool. You know what? Here’s the thing about him. When I put out “Put The O Back In Country” I was completely unaware that he had some song called: “Put The Dick In Dixie.” He hadn’t released it and I wasn’t like a super fan. I had heard the “Lovesick, Broke & Driftin” cd, which I really liked. So when he came out with all that shit…it bummed me out because I was like; “I’m not a target for you. I wasn’t playing any rules.” I grew my beard out because I finally could. I am a lot younger than him but ultimately in hindsight, I did reach out to him. I reached out to him I guess it was about…fuck, year and a half, two years ago or something. I wrote him a text and said “Shelton, whatever has happened, we need to be friends because shit sucks.” That’s basically what I said. He wrote me back and said “I’m glad you understand why I had to do what I had to do.” That I really don’t understand but, in reality when I look back at it, I kind of think he was a genius. He kept both of our names in every article and we were constantly being mentioned together. It was almost like he was doing this publicity dance between both of us. They’d ask me and I’d talk. They asked him and he talked. I finally went and saw his show and what I saw was somebody who had really cultivated such a good career and was such a professional at it.
My first Hank 3 show was after these last three albums that he released. He did his country show, then he came out with electric guitar and did a minute of…the ”Hellbilly” thing then he did the “A.D.D.” and then the ”Cattle Callin.” I stayed through the whole thing till the last minute. First of all with the “Cattle Callin” record when I heard it, I didn’t get it but when I saw it live… I totally got it. It was like “Metal Mozart” or something. I was so floored by after it was over I wrote an article about it on this blog I do once in a while. He went up there and nailed it. He gave everybody everything they wanted right off the bat and did it with ferocious intensity. Then he came out and had fun and did this “A.D.D.” thing and his guitar playing was incredible. His stamina and professionalism… the whole thing was very inspiring to me. I left that show and I was like “I really need to be giving people what they want.” It was like watching somebody who had gone through a lot and was owning their career, therefore allowing themselves to do exactly what they wanted. I learned from that show. As far as he goes, I hope we end up friends for a long time. I would love to play a show with him sometime. I clearly would open for him cause he’s really on a level I aspire to be. As far as metal goes, I feel that he’s the ”Crown Prince” because a lot of these bands out there that are awesome and cool but he is bringing the pentagram side of things that Sleep and Saint Vitus kind of elements to it. He cares so much about it. He’s such a good musician and he’s putting so much more care into it than a lot of people out there who are currently the biggest bands in metal, which should be bowing down to him. I get why Phil Anselmo is his mentor. You can see that in the most respectful way. I don’t have a bad word to say about him. When I wrote him, he said “This is going to sound weird, send me your address.” I originally gave him at PO Box but then I changed it and gave him my real address. I thought I was going to be gone but I ended up being at home. He sent me this box that had all these drawings on it that had vinyls and cds of all three of those records. It had a truck stop rebel flag zippo in it. It wasn’t a Hank 3 merch piece; it was just something he threw in there. I carry it with me. He extended a pretty big olive branch. Then I went and saw him play. I ran into him in the hallway and we ”accidentally” hugged. (Smiles) He’s a sweetheart, man. He went on stage and killed it.
TEN– Tell me about being offered the lead vocals in Velvet Revolver.
SJ– I got offered to audition for the band. It wasn’t like “OK, you can have it if you want it” kind of thing. The first time I didn’t even know that was real. I got an e-mail from somebody I didn’t know. I had done two gigs with those guys before there was a Velvet Revolver. It was Slash, Mat Sorum, Duff and David Kushner. We did one in LA where I sang three songs and then I sang six songs up in Sundance. I moved to LA partially because of that band and a couple of other bands that I grew up on. It was the seediest music I had ever heard. I’m 33 now and I was seven when I first heard GNR. I turned down the first audition because I had my old band at the time and I wasn’t sure if it was the right thing. Then later after Scott (Weiland) left they sent me some demos that I could put vocals on. At that point I had been doing this a while and I tried and I was embarrassed by what I did. I was too embarrassed to send it them. I was like “Man, I’m going to go in there and I’m not going to do as good as job. I’m not going to be able to sing all the Scott Weiland stuff.” I felt like they should just get some unknown dude who was going to go in there and slay it and start over. My band when we were doing the “O Back In Country” tour we did a country version of that song “Fall To Pieces” and it went into “Yesterdays” by GNR. It was kind of our little medley. I love those dudes. When I got to play with them those two times it was like playing with the tightest rock band you could ever imagine playing with. It was like stepping on stage with GNR. I’m fortunate to know those guys, they’re really nice people.
TEN– Where can fans like myself get some of your Stargunn material?
SJ– Ha! I haven’t released it. Everyone asks me and I say “One day…one day.” I don’t know if the world can handle it. I’m kidding. We had one record called “The Only Way Is Down” and the second record we did was a live record. Then we did in EP that Tom Morello produced but we broke up before it was released. You can find them, there are people that have them on mega upload sites. If you go to my website into the forums, the bootleggers then section, I think there’s a post and there were you can find stuff. We’re talk about releasing shit on vinyl just to do it.
TEN– Tell me what it was like portraying your father in the movie “Walk The Line.”
SJ– That was a long time ago, almost 10 years ago when we did it. I don’t know man, I was just finishing “Put The O Back In Country” and I got in touch with the director. It’s funny actually, Billy Ray Cyrus is the reason that I knew that there was a Waylon role in it, I had randomly ran into him one time and he said ”Hey, there’s a Johnny Cash movie and there is a Waylon role in it. You should audition for it.” I was like “I can’t act!” But I when I met the director and he let me audition and I got the part. I was like: “Okay, Imma goin down there and rock it out” and I got there and I was like: “Holy shit! This is really hard! Maybe I should’ve practiced!” I was just trying not to screw the whole movie up in one scene, ya know. It was fun. It was a fun trip but I couldn’t get too heavy about the acting. I was just trying to get through it.
TEN– I have some questions from some of your fans.
SJ– Right on.
TEN– Besides your own music what is your favorite type of music both recent and classic?
SJ– I’ve been so into a lot of these underground/roots bands like Hellbound Glory, Power Mill…there’s so many bands been putting out good records recently. This chick Wendy Ortega put out an amazing record from Canada. Sarah Gail Meech from Nashville. Bob Wayne from Nashville… one of Hank 3’s crew…The Legendary Shack Shakers… all those kind of bands. With my radio show I’m always spinning this kind of stuff. The album that came out this year by a band called Leftlane Cruiser and it’s a record of covers called “Painkillers” and it’s fuckin insane! There’s a dude named Dax Riggs…he’s a rock guy and he was in a band called Acid Bath and others. His albums are incredible. I’m into lots of old music but this week I got really turned onto The Flaming Groovies which I had never really listened to before. Their album “Teenage Head”…I am way into it. I’m all over the place man. My radio show is kinda indicative to what I listen to or what I am listening to. There’s a lot of cool stuff. Gary Clark Junior’s record came out this week and is pretty awesome. There’s a lot of good shit out there man.
TEN– That came from a guy named Scotty and he says hello!
SJ– Hey Scotty!
TEN– What’s the least known fact about your dad?
SJ– He didn’t drink. He didn’t like drinking. Every once in a while he would be like: “Get me a beer.” But he would never finish it. I would go out all of time and people we would say “I got drunk with your dad one time” and I would be like “you’re lyin!” That’s one big thing people don’t know and think he did.
TEN– What’s your fondest memory growing up around a house frequented with music royalty?
SJ– Man, I was pretty oblivious to all the people that were there. They were my dad’s friends. I wanted to play with my Hemans and shit. My dad was a really good dad. He was a really caring parent and my best friend. That’s my fondest memory. I had a very good childhood. A lot of people in my position don’t have that kind of relationship with her parents. My parents still traveled and left when I was in school and took me with them when I wasn’t in school. I never felt like they abandoned me or anything like that. I always felt very close to them and to him. I think maybe we had one argument one time. He was that kind of a dad. I’ll give you a good example. I’m an MTV kid right? I’m into Danzig and NIN and like in ‘94 I was 15 and a friend of mine had tickets to Woodstock 94. I wanted to go really bad because I love NIN so much. My dad was like” Look, I’m not going to tell you not to go, but I’m going to ask you not to go because I’m worried about you. If you don’t go, I’ll order the pay-per-view and watch it the whole weekend with you.” I was like “Fine, that’s cool!” We watched the whole thing and he actually latched onto Primus. He bought “Pork Soda” that had it in his car all the time. He was that way. He was really interested in what made me tick. It was always the cool thing.
TEN– Who, if anyone inspired you growing up or even nowadays?
SJ– To play music? My dad clearly, I can’t ever deny that. I had a lot of people down the road…older ages like Stephen King and Steve Young they have really inspired me. I’ll tell you the reason I even started playing music in the first place was because of Trent Reznor. I play drums and piano and I was really into computers. I heard about how he was making all this music by himself and that’s kind of how I started. If it hadn’t been for him I don’t think I would’ve jumped off the cliff to actually start recording stuff and that eventually morphed into what I’m doing now. He was a giant influence on me. My dad was a very big part of that too.
TEN– Fender or Gibson?
SJ– That’s tough. Because I play Gibson most of the time and most of the time when I play electric guitars I’m going after an SG or Les Paul Flying V sound but I absolutely love Fenders. I love the sound of a Telecaster. Shit, I like Airline guitars, I like Gretsch guitars. I’m kinda all over the place. But, with all due respect to Fender, who has treated me well and my dad well, I think it would probably end up being Gibson at the end of the day. If I were to walk in the room and there were a couple guitars and there was an SG or a “Tele” I would be like hand me the SG because I’m so used to that.
TEN– A fan named Buddha says “Thanks for the music. It has kept him burning over the road on nights when coffee wouldn’t make it.”
SJ– Oh right on, man! Thanks Buddha! Drive safe brother!
TEN– It’s time to shift gears on you. Please tell me something disturbing about yourself that you never revealed before an interview.
SJ– Psssh, yeah, that’s gonna happen here! (Laughs) Something disturbing about myself that I’ve never revealed in an interview. (Long pause) Man, I gotta think about that one. A lot of things are popping into my mind right now and I’m trying to choose which one is right to release to the Internet. Something disturbing about myself, aw man Well, this isn’t that disturbing. I’m obsessed with horror movies, like crazy style. I try to watch them all because I’m just trying to get scared. That is because at a very young age, from when I was about seven years old and I would be laying in bed on a school night, my dad would come upstairs and wake me and say “Hey, there’s a scary movie on TV. You wanna come watch it?” I would go downstairs and I would get terrified. It would be something that just fuckin scared the shit outta me. I would go back upstairs crying or whatever. The next time there was a horror movie on, he would do it again. At this point now, I have such a sick and twisted point of view and sense of humor. That’s not very disturbing though.
TEN– Kind of like a Rob Zombie style point of view?
SJ– Yeah, I have an obsession with that kinda shit because of him.
TEN– Is there anything else that you would like to add or say?
SJ– Just stay tuned to my website and all that shit because I really want to get the word out about what we’re doing with this record. I think people are really gonna dig it. It’s revisiting the disturbing nature that’s inside my mind. There’s some very disturbing images in this thing, but it’s cool.
I want to thank Christina Igoe at 110 Management for setting up the interview and Ryan Hardesty for helping make the interview happen. I want to thank Shooter for taking the time to share for the interview and especially for picking up the tab when we were done.
Also, I would like to thank Scott George, Sam Wilson, Jason Motes, Michele Newell and Justin “Buddha” Aronhalt for the fan questions.