Tying ‘Black Ribbons’ with Shooter Jennings

August 3, 2009

Shooter Jennings

Shooter Jennings is far from the standard fare for Then again, his music—mixing Southern rock, country and now a taste of ’60/’70s-style psychedelia into something that is its own unique style—isn’t the standard for any one format. He is the son of country royalty (Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter), but his success has come on his own terms and convictions. With a new album, Black Ribbons, due in October and two new band members, Shooter has taken to the road this summer on the Warped Tour, bringing its audiences something many probably have never seen before. When it came through Columbia, Md.,’s Greg Maki caught up with Shooter to talk about the tour, the new album and more. I guess the first and obvious question is, why is Shooter Jennings on the Warped Tour?

Shooter Jennings: Yes, it is. I went in the studio in October and finished this album that is different. It’s an album that is very true to me and very true to the albums that we’ve done before, and [drummer] Bryan [Keeling] and [bassist] Ted [Russell Kamp], who have always been in the .357s, are playing on the album and everything. But it’s a much more honest, broad kind of record than the things we’ve kind of done in the past. We’ve kind of conceptualized to some degree. And so we knew that we wanted to kind of break into a different kind of area of attention and bring our fans with us in a certain way. So my manager one day calls and says, “Man, I just thought of it. We’re gonna put you on the Warped Tour.” And we’re losing tons of money doing it, it’s crazy, it’s out of control, but we’re here and we’re having fun with it. We’re still kind of checking it out because we don’t know how people are responding to us. But it seems like we stand out, but they like us. We’re different and they like us. It’s not like they hate us or something.

I’ve met several bands now, we’ve become friends. One of the guys in The Architects has my dad’s face tattooed on his leg. Then Outernational was a band that was out until Dallas. They were produced by Tom Morello, who’s a guy that I’ve done work with and known, and I’ve been told about them. So we kind of hit it off. And it’s starting to become a lot of fun, man. But I mean, why not? At least we’re getting to come and play this music for maybe some people that haven’t ever heard stuff like this. And our shows, there’s a lot of new stuff in the show and it’s kind of like more in the psychedelia, stars breaking out. So we’re having a lot of fun playing around with all the new stuff in front of everybody.

Jason, your tour manager, was describing the new stuff as kind of like the Allman Brothers meets Pink Floyd.

That’s funny. And then in moments, I can hear Nine Inch Nails in there and other stuff. It’s strange ‘cause it goes from piano stuff to heavy stuff. It’s just a really dynamic bunch of songs that we put together, and I’m not just saying it ‘cause I think it’s, you know, whatever—but I’m really proud of it. It’s gonna come out in October now. We’ve got that settled. And so we’re kind of working towards it, and we’re gonna go on the tour in the fall with Earl Greyhound and JJ Grey & Mofro, that group. We’re gonna do like three months with them and the record will be out and everything. So the Warped Tour is this ramp up, jump into this boot camp thing. We showed up here, we were like, “What in the fuck is going on?” There was buses, people hauling gear across fields. Every day, they set this shit up. But now we’ve gotten in the hang of it. We figured out when to shit and shower, and now it seems to be we’re holding our own.


It must be kind of good playing for people who haven’t heard you before and having new material. You get to work that out live. It must be good rehearsal.

It’s great. And we’ve got these two new guys in the band. I got a guitar player that I had met through our new organ player, this guy who was in a band from Detroit called The Sights. His name’s Bobby Emmett, just this madman on the organ. He moves the organ across the stage. It’s crazy. And then he knew this guy John Schreffler, who’s our guitar player, and he just jams with us. It’s like for the first time we all felt like soulmates. And me and Bryan and Ted are over the moon about him. Now we’re out here jamming every night together, doing this shit, getting there. We’re tight as a unit now, and by the time we get to the fall, we’ll be ready to go. And we’ve been doing our own shows along the way and prior to this. So we’re kind of just ramping it up.

One thing that, because you’re doing this, is a little different for me is that for the last two or three years I’ve gone over to Dewey Beach, Delaware.

Oh, you’ve been over to one of those shows?


Those have been the worst shows we’ve ever played.


Yes. The first time I went there, I ended up coming over—me and my girlfriend, and my friend Carter drove. He was driving from Manhattan and the navigator machine on his car took us to the ferry. So we got on the ferry and got shithoused. We had our bulldog with us, too. So we’re on the ferry drinking piña coladas, and man, by the time we went on, I was shithouse drunk. And the second time I got there, I did the same thing ‘cause my old friend Danny Coakley used to come up to those shows. So I feel like we owe Dewey Beach an awesome show. So sorry, man. I’ve got a couple bucks in my pocket if you want it.


So the new album is called Black Ribbons. Is there a story behind the title?

There’s a song on the record called “Black Ribbons,” but it kind of wraps up the whole concept of the album because there’s a lot of surprises on it. We have a guest that’s on the album a lot, which I won’t reveal yet. It’s kind of got this storyline a little bit to it. I really wanted to make a record that was an experience from top to bottom. It’s definitely not an album of 10 songs, hoping to get a song on radio—at all. We might have some fans that were maybe in it for the wrong reason at the beginning that we might run off, but I think our fans who are our fans are gonna really like it. I, by far, think it’s a far superior record to what we’ve done before. You can’t really compare them, though. I shouldn’t say that.

Yeah, because they’re all so different.

It’s very different. The three records we did for Universal South with [guitarist] Leroy [Powell], that was bookended at the end with the Waylon Forever thing and I feel like we’re in this era of change with us, and I feel like it’s a really exciting time. I think we’re really coming into something and I’m coming into something that’s really, I feel like, my own more than before.

Was there something specific that made you sort of really change directions?

Well, I think my daughter being born was a very big part of it because she was born and there was this thing that went off. And right after she was born was when I wrote “Black Ribbons,” the title track, and it’s this kind of really down song. I was really in a bad place because I felt like I had failed in my experience with Nashville. The label had come back with me to do another album for really cheap and was telling me how to do things, and I just said, “Man, I don’t want to do this anymore.” And so I got out of that and I let the manager I had go. He was a great guy, but I just let Nashville go, kind of. I really felt alone and down and she had just been born, and it made me realize that everything I was gonna say from that point on, I had to really speak how I truly feel about things for her, in a way. Everything I have to do, I have to live with much more meaning than I think I lived with before. It definitely flipped a switch and it was almost like there was a death of a side of me that I felt like there was a little mourning to in a way because there was this whole experience. But now I feel like a different person. I’ve never been closer to the fans. I love it. I’m just stoked, so it’s cool. Sorry, I’m rattling off like a fuckin’ douchebag.

Are you engaged now?

Yes, I am engaged to [actress] Drea [de Matteo], yes. We’ve been together for seven years and I would be stupid not to. She’s a great mom and she’s my best friend and she has so much to do with the music, too, just inspiring what I do. And a lot of her ideas are really good. So I’d be stupid not to.

Is she out here with you now?

No, she got a gig on Desperate Housewives, so she is working. We have the crib on the bus ‘cause I really wanted them to come out. We brought them out earlier in the year and Bama does great on the road. But she got this work. It’s really good work. She’s doing 18 to 22 episodes, so unfortunately I have to do this alone, I guess. But hopefully if I can get her away on a weekend or something, I’ll get ‘em out here.

When they do come out, that must be a big change.

It is, but it’s so much more fun, dude, because otherwise I’m just sitting on the bus for hours avoiding drinking too much, just trying to hold it together until show time. When they’re here, I’m occupied and they’re a lot more fun to hang out with. And then when the baby’s asleep, we bring this lady Anna with us that raised Drea, this Nicaraguan woman, she’s like 70. She’ll take care of the baby, and me and Drea, that’s the only time I’ll go to a bar in a local town is ‘cause she’ll drag me there ‘cause she wants to go out. So it’s always more fun when they’re here.

I hope you can get them out here at some point.

Yeah, man, absolutely. I would love to. I want them to see this ‘cause it’s so nuts.

Have you had a chance just to walk around?

Yeah, I walked around all day today. This place is great. They would’ve loved this ‘cause it’s so shaded in a lot of the areas and stuff. It’s really nice. And it’s fun, man. I love it. The last leg that we did, the last 10 days or whatever, it was California to Dallas, was hot. Arizona was like 110 and it was unbelievable. We were all passing out and stuff, so this time it’s really nice to able to just kind of look around and see shit without feeling like I’m gonna go die.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Man, I appreciate you doing the interview and thanks for all the kind words. I hope you dig the new stuff. We’ll send you one over whenever we get it done. It’s not quite done yet.