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Growing up, you were a hair metal kid, who then discovered Hank Jr. There’s always been a certain rock attack to your music. On Riser, it’s very noticeable that the electric guitars aren’t heavily stacked and compressed. There’s also a lot of ambient steel, banjo, mandolin and effects. Where did this more brooding, spacious rock feel come from?
“I worked with a different producer and engineer, both of whom don’t come from a big country record-making background. I don’t think Ross [Copperman] has made a country record.”
He’s had country songwriting cuts.
“Yeah. He makes great demos. That’s how we’d worked together. I love his demos. They weren’t country; they were just good. And then [engineer] Reid [Shippen] is from the rock world, too. I’m definitely of a country mindset when it comes to production. But [with] those guys, the music was more about just amplifying the lyrics.
“A lot of times that means just staying away from the lyrics. There’s more ambient space on this than I’ve had at certain times. There were times when I was like, ‘There should be a fiddle fill. We’ve gotta fill that hole with something.’ They were like, ‘No. There’s no need. We’ll put a little sound in there to kind of bridge the two musical sections. But let’s not distract the listeners’ thoughts here by adding an unnecessary instrument.’ ‘OK. Never thought of it that way.’
“On Riser, we wanted to get the groove going on the second verse, but I don’t think we wanted to give away the four-on-the-floor kick drum thing yet. Reid was like [snaps fingers], ‘I’ve got an idea! Let’s break down half that kit. We’ll set up in this little room over here and just play like the Black Keys would play; just play kick drum and snare... It’ll sound different since it’s not the real room with the big overhead mics… We’ll get the groove started, but it won’t be the full sound yet.’ That’s a fuckin’ genius idea. Nothing I would’ve thought of before. So it’s kinda cool to work with some guys that come from a different background. They were using me to keep it in check, as far as keeping it country.
“I love ‘80s hair bands. I love those tones. But I don’t want to do anything that’s been done before. I mean, we’re all doing something that’s been done before. But I don’t wanna seek out a certain sound that’s already been heard. I just wanna do what comes naturally and blend a certain mix of musicians. Charlie Worsham and Bryan Sutton are arguably two of the greatest acoustic players in this town. Those guys have great record-making sensibilities, because they’ve worked on so many albums in this town. You mix them with players that come from more of a rock background. [Steel guitarist] Dan Dugmore has done it all. And [I had] a producer and engineer who can also play instruments and tweak stuff on their own.
“There’s a lot of, understandably, bitching and moaning about the loss of traditional country music, but I think one of the things people forget about with modern production is the possibility to get even more emotion out of a lyric. You see it with Ray Price – when those guys were cutting with the A-team session players back in the day, it’s really just a sound that was set in place… But you know, when the sound changes sometimes, you can use these instruments in ways that even get more out of the lyric, or do it in a more sparse, edgy way.”