Like Jerry Jeff Walker and Ray Benson before him, Jason Eady pilgrimaged to Texas to embrace the legacy of the Lonestar State’s great songwriters and hone his skills. Eady paid his dues in the bars and open mics, forming a style and philosophy that prizes simple, relatable narratives. Enlisting his longtime hero– songwriter Kevin Welch– as a producer, Jason Eady has released a series of excellent records that have impressed hardcore traditional country music fans as well as Americana enthusiasts– and with his latest effort, I Travel On, Eady may have created the perfect album. How’d he do it? Read on…
AI- We haven’t spoken to you since you’ve had a new album out– so I wanted to talk about that. I Travel On… I read you wrote all of those songs in a month’s time?
(Laughs) Yeah, that’s right!
You and the band went in and set up Sun Records-style just tracked everything live. I like to call that a guerilla record making– small outfit, strike quick, precision songs, and then you’re out. Is it always like that?
No, not at all. This was definitely the first time I’d ever done that. Normally, it’s the other way around! Normally, you look back when it’s to make a record and go, “Well, I think I have enough songs,” and then you kind of gather your songs that you’ve written since the last record. You know, let’s put together the best of what I’ve done over the last year. But this one? I don’t know… We were onto something with the band. We had been out on the road touring the record before, and we just kind of came up with this sound– and I knew we were clickin’. We had played something like 200-something shows that year, and we were just firing on all cylinders. I thought, “This is it. We need to get in a studio and capture this right now.” But I wanted it to be original songs, but because we travel so much, I hadn’t written anything. We’d just been on the road, so I hadn’t written. I just put myself under the gun and I booked a studio– and I booked Rob and Trey, who are our two guests players that came in. I booked them to come play on the record with us– and had no songs! I booked it for about a month out and had no songs and just trusted that I’d be able to do it. I spent about a month– once we get off the road– just writin’ every single day. I think what you end up with is… If the cohesiveness of it is there, it’s just because everything was written at one time for that record… If that makes sense.
You brought up a Trey Hensley and Rob Ickes. I wanted to ask you specifically about them on the record. How did that collaboration come together?
Man, I’m a huge fan. We all are– and it was funny, we knew to make the record we wanted to make, we were going to have to bring in some players because we wanted it to be live. We didn’t want to do any overdubs and while our lead player’s a great player, he can’t play three different things at the same time, you know? So we knew we needed a couple of guys to round it out and guys that could do that live thing. We were racking our brains about who to call, who it should be, and we realized– as we were talking about it– that we were listening to their records! And we’d been listening to ’em for the whole year. They were a big part of our year, you know, driving up and down the road. I thought, “Man, I should just call!” I had met them… I had a show in Kansas City about six months before, and we had all hit it off. And so I just called Trey and said, “Y’all want to do this?” And he said, “Yeah,” and they were in on the first phone call and it kind of went from there. It’s been really cool havin’ ’em. We toured with them this last year as soon as the record came out. They went out on tour with us for about two months. We got to go out and play the songs exactly like we recorded them, which is something I’ve never been able to do. You know what I mean? It was note-for-note the record because it was exactly what happened in the studio on the road. But those guys are the best– and I don’t say that figuratively. They’re literally the best at what they do. They’re pretty unbelievable to watch.
Why a straight acoustic record?
I’ve just been into that lately. It was kind of just a challenge. I wanted to see how far I could push that, you know? And I didn’t want to make a bluegrass record. It seems like when people hear “acoustic” record, they think either a bluegrass record or like a folk record. I wanted to do an acoustic record that wasn’t either one of those. It does have some bluegrass tinges to it, obviously– but it’s got a groove-based part, it’s got drums on it. I mean, it definitely doesn’t check the boxes for bein’ bluegrass. I just wanted to see how far I could push that acoustic envelope– what kind of sounds we can get, how big of sound we could get with a full band, drums and all. But all acoustic. We just wanted to see what we can do with that. And I just love that style! It just reminds me of growin’ up. When I was growing up playin’ back home, it was all acoustic and that wasn’t on purpose. That’s what people had, and everybody would come over to the house and sit around and play music– and everybody just played acoustic instruments. That’s what I grew up on.
Was there a time where you were like, “Oh, man, I kind of miss that pedal steel,” or “I kind of miss that telecaster,” and like, “No, no, no, no! We’re going to leave it like this!”
No, not on this one. I’m getting there now. I’m thinking I may do something a little different on the next record, but during that process, no, I didn’t. It sounded exactly like I wanted it to sound, and I knew it when it was happening. It was one of those… You have a vision in your head and then when it was coming out in the studio, I thought, “This is exactly it!” And that doesn’t happen very often. Usually, you, have the sound in your head, and it comes out and it’s 90% there, but you know, there’s just something that’s not quite… Either your vision was off or something, but you didn’t quite line up. But this time I knew it, so I was just thrilled that it was happening. But now, I’ve just had one of those careers, and I’m one of those guys that… I do like to change things up. I get a little bored if I just do… As much as I love somebody like Don Williams, who just made the same record for 30 years– and I love his music and it’s comforting, and I wish I could do that– but you know, I don’t think I have that in me. I think I have to keep changing things up or I get a little bored.
You had your longtime friend and producer Kevin Welch back for I Travel On. How has that team evolved over the course of a decade now?
It’s such a cool thing for me to even talk about because he was such a hero of mine growing up, a songwriting hero, man. I was one of those guys that always… The day I bought a record, I looked at the writer credits to see who was writin’ what. I don’t know why, but it just was always something I was drawn to– and he was always one of my favorites from way back bein’ a teenager. And then I got to meet him, and we got to be friends, and we started working together. He had never produced a record before we worked with him on the first one. So just together we have kind of created this way of making albums that we both really like, you know? And every record we find more and more of it. We zero in, and we think alike. I also love having a producer that’s a songwriter. I think that’s pretty amazing ’cause he’s very aware when we’re in the studio, of making sure that people support the lyrics, stay out of the way of the lyrics, that the lyrics get to shine through– and he understands that because he’s a writer. That’s really important to me.
Speaking of writing, you also have your wife join you, Courtney Patton, on the album. Did you two have any co-writes for this record?
We did– and we haven’t it in a while. It’s been a couple of records since we’ve done it. We joke we wrote a lot when we were dating, and we don’t write at all once we’re married! But this time, we did write two songs on this record. There’s one called “Below the Waterline” and one called “Now or Never”. We co-wrote both of those. It’s the first two we’ve co-written in a long time, but it was fun to get to do that again.
You’ve got, on the album, some straight honky tonkers, which I know everybody loves to talk about how great your traditional country music is. You talked about the bluegrass influence– but then you bring up “Now or Never”… You’ve got some tracks on there that fall nicely into the catch-all of Americana. What do you prefer? How do you like to look at what you do?
Oh, man, I love the term “roots music”. That’s my favorite term for it, ’cause I feel like that’s what it is. I like stuff that grabs the roots of where things are coming from and sees what else you can do with those roots. I grew up in Mississippi and all kinds of music was comin’ through there, all kinds. Obviously, I grew up on country music– and bluegrass was a close second– but there was also R&B, there was soul music coming out of Mississippi, Southern Rock coming out of there. That stuff was all around, and I just latched on to all of that. I love music that comes from… a roots place, you know? Something that’s grounded in that. And that doesn’t mean that that’s all I listened to. I mean, I listen to people that are definitely pushing envelopes and doing things that are different– and I like that, but it’s not me. It’s not anything I’ll think I’ll ever do, but I love listening to it. I love making that kind of roots music– but obviously, anything I ever do is going to be country. That’s kind of my ground zero, my number one. That’s where it all starts for me. I hate to… I don’t want to be the “save country music” guy all the time, but…
Well, she needs defendin’, sir!
Yeah, you know, it’s tough for me. I have a hard time when people say, “What kind of music do you make?” It’s hard to say country music because there’s so many other things that come to people’s minds. When you say [mainstream] country music, that’s not even close, it’s not even in the same ballpark of what I’m doing. It’s hard to say country music anymore. But to me, it’s country music. That’s what I always call it.
To go back aways, you’ve got that great line from “AM Country Heaven” where you say you miss the days when women were ugly and men were all 40– and that’s the juxtaposition because if you look at contemporary, modern Top 40 country music, those are not the images and the sounds that you are were listening to anymore.
No, it’s not. It’s very manufactured now, very market driven. The look comes first, that’s for sure. If you walk in and you don’t have the look then you’re not going to get the deal. You could be Merle Haggard, it doesn’t matter. If you don’t look like you’re supposed to look then that’s it. You don’t get your chance to even make the record. And that’s a shame. Imagine all the guys we consider legends that wouldn’t have even had a chance in this climate, you know?
I have that exact same conversation all the time.
Yeah. Yeah, it’s too bad.
You brought up something that you’re working on now. Are we going to be looking for a straight honky tonker comin’ within the next year?
(Laughs) I don’t know. You know, I’m just now starting to write that one, and I’ll kind of see where it goes. I’ll tell ya a sound I also really love is… I don’t know if you’re familiar with JJ Cale, but just kind of…
Yeah, the Tulsa Sound.
Yeah, that kind of stomp groove stuff. I love that stuff too. So I don’t know. I’m toyin’ around with some different ideas on this one. It’ll be different, but I’m just now startin’ down that road– and actually, when I’m out next month on this acoustic tour that I’m about to start doing, I’m sure I’ll write. It’s hard to write when you’re on the road with a band, but when you’re out by yourself there’s a lot of hotel time. I’m sure I’ll get a lot of writin’ done over this next month too.