Kyle Nix’s Lightning on the Mountain & Other Short Stories is a fantastic hillbilly album overflowing with moonshine, fast cars, deals goin’ down & wrong, and revenge. Like his work with the Turnpike Troubadours, the songs on Nix’s debut solo effort vacillate from traditional to modern with flourishes of bluegrass and strokes of contemporary Americana. Colorful splashes of spaghetti western flare flow around honky tonk waltzes and wailers while the Oklahoma native’s honest stories and fiery fiddle take center stage. A wealth of special guests including Troubadours Ryan Engleman, Gabe Pearson, RC Edwards, and Hank Early join Nix to make it a near family affair that’s sure to impress longtime fans– but make no mistake, Lightning on the Mountain belongs to Kyle Nix.
AI- Well, everybody’s at home. Things have slowed down quite a bit. And my mama always asks me when I’ve had some time off, “Whatcha been cookin’ and whatcha been eatin’?” So whatcha been cookin’ and whatcha been eatin’?
KN- Ha! With the time off, there’s been a lot of writing. I’ve probably written more songs than I have in any amount of time just over the past couple of months. I think I’ve written about 27 songs now. I haven’t really put any kind of editing cap on it to slow it down. Since everything’s movin’ and the ideas are comin’, I don’t want to stop to look at something and really edit down. That’s generally what I do when I write. I tend to look at something after I get it done and say, “Okay, how can I trim the fat here?” And do things to make it better. But at this point, everything’s workin’ well and I don’t want to slow it down.
Is that a direct result from the work that you put into creating Lightning on the Mountain & Other Short Stories? Have you developed a taste for writing? Putting this kind of project together of your own?
I guess so. In a way, there is that– and the other part is just sitting really still. Doing something constructive with your time when you’re stuck in purgatory. Being able to create something instead. Being able to make something out of a situation like this. I feel like there’s something that makes you feel really good about being able to create something. I think that’s just how humans are. It’s definitely made me feel a bit better about the situation that I’m personally in. I mean, I know the whole world is in it, but if you can do something to make yourself feel better… That sounds awful!
I don’t think so at all. No, I don’t think so.
It’s just when you’re stuck inside, you tend to look inward.
The fiddle playin’ bandleader is a long time tradition and oddly enough, fairly absent in contemporary country or any other kind of music. Why do you think that’s happened? And do you feel like you’re bringing that back into the fold with Lightnin’ on the Mountain?
I’m not really sure. Since I was a kid just being a fan of Charlie Daniels, the songs were really good… Well, I mean, “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”, obviously in my opinion, is one of the best songs ever, but I’m a fiddle player, so I have some bias there! I don’t know, man? You don’t tend to see the fiddle player lead singer a lot, and I think it’s really interesting. If I ever get to get out on the road, I’m definitely going to have fun with it, but I don’t know. I don’t know why that’s not more of a thing. Maybe it’s just a little bit easier to strum the structure of the songs and sing along with it. ‘Cause I know some people that play fiddle that write and sing, but they’ll generally play guitar and sing when they’re behind their tunes. I think that’s really just how people feel. I don’t know if they want to play the fiddle behind it or if they don’t, I don’t know. That’s interesting. It’s a good question.
You made the album with your Troubadour brothers and a few special guests, all of them friends, you recorded it in a familiar room with a producer that you knew and trusted, but being that it’s a straight Kyle Nix album, did it feel different to you?
It did because there were my songs. Other than that, it didn’t have that big of a different feel. When the guys came in to do their parts, it just felt natural. We’re friends and we’re really close and know each other’s habits and what to expect from each other. So that felt like home. Being in charge of everything and not being just one fifth or one sixth of the process though, that was different because like I said, they were my songs and the buck stopped with me when it came to structures, lyrical content, the whole bit. It felt like home, but there was just a little bit more responsibility within that.
I would say it’s one of the most anticipated albums of 2020 thus far, and because it is you and your Troubadour brothers, it does appear that [people] are hinging a lot on its appearance. How are you feeling about it going forward? Does it feel strange to be making this record now?
I think it’s more just the world feels different right now. I don’t feel strange about having done it and putting it out now because I was on the way to finishing it before. A lot of the social unrest happened and the virus hit, I was already finished with the record at that point. It’s just the tedious, behind-the-scenes stuff, putting together the record. We were in the process of that when the virus numbers started going up. It doesn’t feel weird to have put out a record, it’s just a different world right now. I’m really listening to a lot of music right now, and I think music helps people get through certain periods of their lives and inspires people and can do great things for people. I don’t really have any qualms about it and I’m kind of glad that I’m putting it out during a time when the world is going through some transitions.
You’re listening to a lot of music? Are you a vinyl guy?
Yeah, I’m definitely a vinyl guy. I actually had to get a new record player because the other one, there was some kind of belt on it that was wore out and the records were playin’ really slow! As soon as I got that other one, it’s been an all-day thing. Usually, if I’m at the house, if I’m doing stuff here, I’ll put one on, move around and then when I realize it’s gone off the needle, turn it around or put on another.
What are your favorites right now?
I really have gotten into a later Bob Dylan lately. And the new records? I like Steve Earle Ghosts of West Virginia. There’s some really bone-chilling stuff in there. They’re great songs. “It’s About Blood”? I mean, they’re really good songs and they hit deep. I got a copy of Corb Lund’s Agricultural Tragic…
I know! It’s so good. Isn’t it?
Yeah, I absolutely loved it– and I love Corb and those guys! I’m really glad that I got to listen to it! But yeah, those are a couple of things that I’m definitely listening to right now.
Going back to Lightening on the Mountain, I want to ask you about one of the special guests on there, your hero Byron Berline. Had you had an opportunity to record with Byron before this album?
Yeah, we did on the Turnpike Troubadours record, the self-titled record. He played on a song called “7 Oaks”. So we got to do that before and I haven’t really got to record with him outside of that, but we’ve hung out a lot and played a lot at his shop and played at his festival in Guthrie, Oklahoma, and just some other shows. He’s joined us on stage when I was playing with the Troubadours quite a few times. So I guess it was the second time we were really recording anything, but there are great stories with all this stuff. Byron’s just such a great professional when he gets in the studio. And he’s a one-taker, man! He plays it one time and it’s done! (Laughs) It wasn’t any different with this one. It was pretty easy. He got in there and just tore it up!
Do you still get to learn something when you’re around him?
Oh yeah! You just have to sit still and listen and watch. There’s just an encyclopedia of knowledge there, whether it’s music or just advice. It’s best just to shut your mouth and open your ears and pay attention a little bit because you don’t always get to hang out with people like him that have done as much as he’s done– playing with Bill Monroe, playing with the Rolling Stones and all those people all. You can’t afford not to listen. He’s been a great teacher to me just being around him, and I always appreciate the time that he gives me.
There’s one song, “Manifesto”, I really appreciate that sentiment. I think a lot of individuals, myself included have wrestled with it. Compared to those who have fought for their country, that idea of, “What have I done?” Is that a new idea that’s popped into your life? Is it something you’ve reconciled with or is the music the way that you do that?
I wanted to say what I was thinking about that sometimes. My father and my grandfather both were a part of something that shaped the world as we know it today. And to think I was making a pretty good livin’ playin’ with the Turnpike Troubadours… It’s not guilt, but it’s just this feeling like… The whole thing spawned from seeing some relief pitcher getting a deal where he was making tens of millions of dollars a year just to pitch relief and the experience that I was just talking about. I just think my grandfather and my father deserved to make a living more than what they did. If that makes any kind of sense? I wanted to write a song like, “What have I done compared to you guys and why do I deserve this good spot that I’m in when all I do is play the fiddle?” That’s what I was trying to say. My father and my grandfather deserved every good thing they ever got, and I just wanted to tip the cap to ’em.
I’m a big western fan. And so I love the spaghetti western concept that ties the narratives together. I’m also a devotee of the album form– a body of work meant to be enjoyed from first to last. Perfect world scenario here, if and when you are able to take this show on the road, would you be performing it like that? Like the album with all the little Ennio Morricone segues?
I’ve thought about that quite a bit, and I think it’d be a cool thing to add into it. You can kind of transition into things and keep the show rolling the same way the record works. I’ve always been a fan of concept records and albums that you can listen to all the way through. I was a fan of Pink Floyd when I was younger, just because it almost felt like you were watching a movie or something because everything sort of kept moving. And even though it might not have been a seamless story it was telling, it had the flow of one. So you had that feeling. Yeah, I think that would be something I would probably look into and have fun with. I mean, a live show is being able to express things that way. It’s really unique if you can do that. I’ve seen shows like that. Audioslave comes to mind. I saw them in 2003 and then in 2005, and they did these little segments that kind of move into another song. It was fantastic.
Who’d be on the road with you if you did it?
Well, I had a band thrown together before the problems with the virus. Gabe was gonna jump on the road with me– Gabe Pearson, drummer of the Troubadours– [and] Hank Early and RC Edwards. So I had three of the Troubadours with me, and then I had a possibility for a couple of others. Kevin Foster– who played with Jason Eady and played with Sunny Sweeney and The Damn Quails– he was going to be a part of it too. I had a pretty good ragtag band thrown together and had a couple of other guests that were gonna come in here and there. But we’ll see. If everything clears up and everything gets better out there, we’ll see what happens and who’s available after that. ‘Cause it might change a little bit, you know? It’s a little bit different now.
You’ve been carrying a lot of those songs around for a while and you’re at home and you’re writing now– apparently furiously. Now that you’ve done it and you’ve made the album and you’ve gotten a taste for it, should the Turnpike Troubadours go back into the studio at some point in time under that banner, would you endeavor to be a greater part of that process?
Oh, I don’t know how that would ever work. We kinda had a thing that we did. I never really wanted to impede on that even when I had some songs. It’s not like I tried to push him on anyone. As of right now though, I’m definitely more confident in my writing than I was– say five years ago? Because sitting still and learning has really afforded me to get to a spot where I feel comfortable. I don’t know how that would work with the Troubadours, but I do know that I would definitely like to try my hand again at some more records for myself and see if I can do it better each time. That’s really what it’s about is trying to get better every time you create something,
My ears don’t work so good– or not like they used to anyway– what is that running dialogue underneath a lot of the songs?
(Laughs) That was just a lot of fun! Actually, the funny thing is it started by accident. I was thinking that I wanted to have some ambient sound in some of these songs. Well, a fella named Ian Moore that I really admire was a part of the record. He has this album called Luminaria, and it has all these cool ambient sounds on it. Ian had played on this record, so I wanted to call him and pick his brain about it. I called him and I missed him and I decided I was going to plug in and record a guitar part for the record. Anyway, I was in the middle of recording the guitar part and he calls back! We have this conversation with him on the speakerphone and we’re talking about ambient sounds and he’s telling me stories– but I didn’t realize that whole time that my microphone was still on and I was recording the whole thing!
I get done and I start listening to it. Little bits here and there were really interesting and I text him and said, “Hey, we were talking about ambient sounds? Well, I accidentally just recorded our conversation ’cause I was doin’ a guitar part!” And then I said something about maybe throwing it in and seein’ if any of that stuff works and he said, “Yeah, go for it!” So I put it in under the song “Graves” on the outro– that’s Ian talking. It just worked out though. I kind of wanted to do that in a couple of songs, but that was the start of it. And then I had this idea to do it on like the woman talking on the outro of “Sweet Delta Rose”. That’s actually our drummer Gabe on the beginning of the song “Wolf At The Door”. He’s on the front of that teaching his daughter how to aim a rifle and shoot!
So if you listen really close, you can catch little bits of what they’re saying, but it’s pretty hard. But I wanted it like that. I was mentionin’ I was a fan of Pink Floyd– there’s quite a bit of that stuff on their records. It was just one of those things, an ode to those types of records. Yeah, it happened by accident, but I just went with it.
Do you have a plan for the album release? Are you going to do like a live stream or anything?
Well, there was talk that I would do a live stream– Live at Cain’s Ballroom.
Yeah… So we’ll see. That’s kind of in the works right now. We don’t know if it’s a hundred percent deal. Everybody’s kind of up in the air with everybody if things do start opening up and we can make some plans. We’ll just see how it goes, I guess.