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Above photo: On stage with guitarist Brian Layson, Ontario, Canada, August 2013.
Really, the one constant about the producers you’ve worked with is that they’re also your co-writers. That goes for Ross Copper, your longtime producer Brett Beavers, and Jon Randall, too. Any theories on why that keeps happening?
“The guys I work with tend to be songwriters. I guess it’s just the continuity that goes from when the pencil first hits the paper to when we start hitting the record button… I mean, Brett Beavers is such a good producer, and we’re such good friends. I feel like there’s a real healthiness to a relationship between an artist and a producer when you’re not dependent on each other, and you’re successful in doing things on your own without each other, because you can circle back around and say, ‘Here’s what I’ve been working on. I’ve got some new tricks. Let’s go at it again.’
"I know I’m gonna work with Jon Randall again. I know I’m gonna work with Brett Beavers again, and Luke Wooten… No one’s feelings get hurt, because I have such a great relationship with all the guys that I’ve worked with. It’s never ended on bad terms. I think it’s really healthy to not be overly dependent upon each other. You know what I mean? “
There’s a certain kind of vocal attack that works when you’re playing an arena. By necessity, you lose nuance, because you have to really project your voice to reach the people all the way in the back. But there’s an intimate quality to your singing on Riser, more so than on any of your other recordings. What made the difference?
“I’ll never do my vocals in a booth ever again – like, a recording booth. I don’t know why I didn’t think of this before. I’m a live singer. The honky-tonks on [downtown Nashville’s] Lower Broadway, that’s where I cut my teeth. That’s the kind of singing I do… I think a vocal booth is a great place for a great singer. When I say great singer, I’m talking about not just emotive but like technically good – can falsetto with a vibrato. You need that booth to capture every little thing about the voice. That’s not what my voice does. My voice, I come from the bluegrass school where you find a note and you fuckin’ hunker down on it and you hold it straight and long and true. You let the emotion of your heart come through in the tone of your voice, instead of using moves. I don’t know how to do moves.
“So I don’t need to be in the vocal booth. Here On Earth I sang on the bus. Lots of the vocals were done in Ross’ studio, which is the part of his house that the baby doesn’t go into… You can do vocals anywhere if you’re not looking for that Celine Dion-type thing. I discovered I sing much better when someone else is in the room with me, when I’m singing right here and Ross is sitting right here next to me and I can hold onto the mic. I’m grabbing the mic like I would on stage… I don’t have to be in an arena with the whole crowd there, but just having someone else in there with me [makes all the difference].”