You're from Arkansas. How did your hometown shape your approach to songwriting?
I grew up in Greenwood, Arkansas. It's a small town and was even smaller when I was growing up. Becoming aware of and excited about music and trying to make music in that environment at a time when the internet was still more or less nonexistent was hugely formative for me, as I think it was for so many other people. It just meant that anything having to do with music that was out of the ordinary (classic rock/pop/country radio) you had to search and seek and dig for and I think that's a useful skill and habit that doesn't really exist as much anymore. So, I'm grateful to have grown up with that sense of urgency for THE SEARCH that never goes away.
Your first band was Theodore, a country- and punk-influenced band in St. Louis. When I think of that city, the obvious touchpoint for me is Uncle Tupelo. How much of a legacy did that band leave on the city? Do you have a favorite Uncle Tupelo record?
I only came to St. Louis after graduating college so I sort of got all of the Tupelo stuff second hand. It definitely was a thing that a lot of people love dearly and live on. I'm not sure why exactly but the Tupelo records never really hooked me in a deep way. I've always been more of a Wilco fan myself. But Uncle Tupelo definitely made an indelible mark on the St. Louis scene - with good reason.
You moved from St. Louis to Mississippi to form Water Liars. What are the common threads between the Midwest and the Deep South? Did the transition change the way you think about writing songs?
I think the South and the Midwest and really all areas of the country are a lot more similar than most people believe or want to believe. That's one of the most important things I've learned from years of traveling around the country. Humans, and Americans, have a need to categorize, and to separate and to divide, and in many ways the different regions and areas of our country are different and separate. But in just as may ways, they are just the same, and I think the more effort we make to see and embrace that the better off we'll all be.
In hindsight, what has changed my perspective and way of writing over time has been less where I am physically located and more just getting older and trying to learn from my mistakes and experiences. We're all just people.
This tour is billed as an “All Songs Considered” experience. What does that mean and how will it work? Have you had to prepare and rehearse differently?
It's really just a way of saying that I want to make sure anyone and everyone who cares enough to buy a ticket to a show has an equal opportunity to weigh in on what they might want to hear. That's really the point of this whole thing, riding around and playing songs for folks, right? And it allows me to get back into things I've written that have been pushed aside for a long time. There are a few things that I've had to brush up on, but it's also a lot of muscle memory in a way.
This will be your second living room set at Recover Brands. What were your impressions of the last one? How often do you play in Charlotte?
I generally am in Charlotte a couple times a year at least. Playing these living room shows is great, and getting to play at Recover is doubly cool because it's a great space as well as being Bill and the crew's work and creative space. He and they have been so kind and generous to me, and their products are amazing. So it's a win win win as far as I'm concerned!
You are a published poet, you’ve referenced Milton in your song lyrics, and the band name Water Liars was taken from a short story. Clearly your interest in writing extends beyond just songs. How does literature inform your approach to music?
Books and literature are and always have been some of my truest and most long-lasting companions along with music and records. There is no way it could not inform just about everything that I may try to do or work on creatively.
We sometimes ask people to end their interviews with a record recommendation, but here I was wondering if you could recommend some of your favorite books. Is there anything that has really moved you?
I've spent a good bit of this summer reading almost all of Denis Johnson's novels and re-reading Charles Portis's novels. I can't recommend either highly enough. Two of my all time favorites.