In the spring of 2020, with COVID-19 shutting down businesses and tours like lights in a house, Jesse Daniel released Rollin’ On, a honky tonkin’ sophomore effort that two-stepped and flowed out of the California mountains like cool water. Beyond These Walls, due July 30th from Daniel’s own Die True label through Soundly Music, picks up the reins to reunite the Golden State native turned Texas transplant with producer/multi-instrumentalist Tommy Detamore (Jim Lauderdale, Sunny Sweeney, Johnny Bush) for another sojourn that’s nostalgic, stylish, and country to the core. Daniel and his partner Jodi Lyford hunkered down in the depths of the pandemic to write a collection of songs that barrel through dance halls, summer evenings, fishing holes, and the darkest sides of addiction, recalling Jesse’s own struggles and the strength it took to overcome them. Featuring a stellar lineup of special guests that include Raul Malo (The Mavericks), Kevin Smith (Willie Nelson, Asleep At The Wheel), Ronnie Huckaby (George Strait), and Hank Singer (Faron Young, Randy Travis, Miranda Lambert), Jesse Daniel’s Beyond These Walls moves like a finely tuned pickup down the interstate and cowboy heels across a hardwood floor.
AI- I wanted to talk about Rollin’ On just a little bit as this is the first opportunity we’ve had to speak. That album came out at the very beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic when I’m sure you thought momentum was about to be heading straight up. I can only imagine how you were feelin’ at that point in time!
JD- Really, it was pretty devastating. We had so many tour dates and we were supporting a lot of bigger artists. We had a lot of crazy stuff goin’ on at the same time as the record! At first, it was really a hard pill to swallow, and then as time went on, we kind of realized the record did as good as it possibly could have under the circumstances with it being almost kind of a captive audience type of situation! People really didn’t know what was going on in the world, and everybody was a little bit scared, a little bit confused by everything. A lot of people have told me at shows– now that things are opened up– and have sent emails, messages that the record helped him through 2020. So I think it ended up doing well in that way.
Somethin’ that you had talked about in the buildup for that record was how travel was a challenge to you that you needed. What was the challenge that sustained you during that lockdown?
What kept us goin’ was I started writing again pretty heavily. Jodi and myself, both, started writing a lot and ended up writing this next record that I’m gonna be comin’ out with on July 30th. We basically just put our heads down and really focused on that and worked without saying anything about it.
With Beyond These Walls, one of the songs that stand out as far as the era that we’re living in is “Living In The Great Divide”. Was that one of the first songs that came to you during that period?
It was! It was over last summer. I wrote that song and it was definitely inspired by my interpretation of the way that things are and were, especially at that time with social media kind of being king as far as the way everybody is getting their information and misinformation. That’s what inspired that song.
Some artists prefer to stay away from making any kind of statement like that in music, especially artists that travel along the country avenues. There’s always that mentality of “shut up and sing.” Is that something that concerns?
Yeah, definitely. I think that it is great that people are using their platforms for good and for what they believe in. I’ve always kind of erred on the side of, “I’m in it to make music that I love to make and to make people happy.” That’s kind of it. But for that song, that was the closest that I’ve ever gone to writing with any kind of message. I don’t even really think of it as a political message. It’s more so just trying to find common ground with people. I always think about this, you know, politics don’t really exist in the natural world, in the animal world. You gotta survive and look out for yourself.
You mentioned your partner, Jodi Lyford, earlier, writing with her. This would be your third full-length record and you two have been writing together through all three of those. How has that dynamic changed for you as far as the creative side of it? Is it something that you have just grown more comfortable with exploring the songs?
Jodi and I, we’ve always actually written together since we got together. We’ve been together just about five years and that’s always been a big part of our relationship and friendship and how we work together. We’ve always known what to do as far that goes. We work well together and we just finally had a good amount of time to really sit down and work on stuff. That was one silver lining that last year provided.
Does she come at it from a musician standpoint too? Had she been a performer?
She’s played in some bands before. She played drums in some bands and has been around music. She shot photos for bands for a long time. She’s a concert photographer and she’s just kinda been around that community of music in one way or another, genre or another for a long time. But I’d say she comes at it more from a lyricist’s perspective. She’s more on that side. And then I will take an idea that she has or a song that she has, add the melody, and structure it to verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge-type of thing.
You said she was a drummer. If I’m not mistaken, in another lifetime, you were also a drummer– punk rock drummer, right?
Yes, I was! Yeah!
Some people don’t see the relationship between punk music and country music. I’m not one of those people. I think that they’re very related. I track it all the way back to those old rockabillies back in the ’50s kinda bein’ the first wave of punk rock. And that all started with country, blues, and gospel! Look back on all the different phases of country music and alt-country music and that theme always seems to run underneath. I believe you actually did do an alt-country mashup kinda thing early on? But you’ve dedicated more to straight traditional-style country.
When I first started out getting into playing country music, it was definitely more along the lines, like you said, of alt-country. I feel like more of that punk rock influence was I was comin’ straight out of that into doing this. So it definitely came through more. I loved country music in one way or another, even when I was younger and first getting into punk rock music. When I was younger, I didn’t necessarily think country music was very cool, and so I wanted to do my own thing and get into the type of music that reflected how I felt– kind of aggressive music. I think that first record definitely comes through in that, but I love traditional country music. And I think that there is– like you just said in the ’50s and all those people that were doing that music– such a correlation with even super traditional country music and punk rock.
It’s also that raw emotion. That’s just stripped bare with punk rock music and with country music. When it’s sad, it’s sad, when it’s angry, it’s angry. A love song could be a murder ballad, right?
That’s it! Absolutely, man!
Your sobriety coincided with a re-invention in country music, and it’s something that you continue to discuss on Beyond These Walls. The song “Gray”… When it comes to your own story of addiction and in that particular song, being a witness to someone else, I also hear the introspection of it too. Now that you have been sober– for over three years now, right?
Yeah, little over four years.
With that song, it’s got to be difficult when you see people that you know, friends or even fans out there when you travel, to see them and know what they’re going through.
That’s true. In my addiction and the years that I spent doing that… It’s hard to convey. There’s a lot of people that I know, a lot of artists that are out there, I’d say the vast majority of artists, it’s always kind of cool to have like this almost outlaw, badass image with people drinking or smoking or whatever. Not to say that those things aren’t harmful or can be harmful when done in excess, but my experience got so much darker than that. I just saw so much of the evil side of the bad and had a lot of friends die. Just been to a lot of funerals in the last five years of people that overdosed or died in other ways. That song was my effort. I’ve one friend particularly in mind, and I wanted to put that song out there as a song to not glorify those things. It’s really nothing to brag about or to glamorize.
That’s a hard thing to do in a genre of music, as you said, that does tend to glorify an “outlaw” point of view.
Exactly, I agree. That’s always been a thing. It’s funny, people at shows, they always wanna buy me beers and buy me shots and stuff. I usually don’t even tell them I’m sober. I just am like, “Oh, I’m not drinkin’ tonight,” and I’ll pass it off [to the band]. They all drink so it works pretty well.
Another song on the record that segues nicely into this, “Texas Summer Night”. You mention your friend Dallas Burrow. I actually spoke to Dallas just a couple weeks ago– and we spoke about you! He had some wonderful things to say about you. He told me what an angler you are and told me I needed to ask you what the biggest fish you have caught lately has been. ‘Cause he said you’ve spent a great deal of the pandemic fishing!
Yeah, that’s true! That was the other thing that I was doin’, man! I love it! Recently, we just went up to Montana. We did a two week tour up to Montana, Wyoming, Oregon, Idaho, and while we were up in Idaho, I got to do some fishin’ out on the Snake River. Up there, it’s world-class fly fishing, and I had never really done much fly fishing! We ended up gettin’ to do some amazing fly fishing ’cause a friend of ours was up there, and he was really close with the guide. So we got to go out and do this fly fishing trip on a boat, and it was incredible! I ended up, I got lucky, I caught the biggest one of the day– a 19-inch brown trout! That was kinda my first time ever doing that type of fishing. That’s gotta be the biggest recently! I love it, man!
And you got a song! You got a fishin’ song on Beyond These Walls, “Drop A Line Out Here On The Water”! I think you should continue that theme. You should bring the fishin’ song back and do one on every album that you do subsequently!
I think that’s good advice, man. I’d love to do that!
I want to talk about making Beyond These Walls. You’re back with Tommy Detamore, who you worked with for Rollin’ On. Was there any other choice or were you just intent on getting back into the studio with Tommy?
After Rollin’ On came out, we had a lot of people hit us up. We had some labels, bigger labels that hit us up, and people were really interested. There’s a couple other things that we were thinking about doing and then we ended up basically deciding that wasn’t quite the right time to do those things. We wanted to stay true to what we were doing and make another record with Tommy. I just heard the production and everything, and I knew what he was capable of. Tommy’s incredible, just an incredible musician and co-producer and everything! We work well together and we moved out here to Texas basically because we met him and so many other people in this area. So we thought, “Why not do it with Tommy?” I’m glad we did! It was the right choice for that record. I was actually talkin’ with Shooter Jennings the other day. We met up, we played a show with him, and he was just sayin’ the same thing, like, “I’m glad you did that one with Tommy. It really progressed that sound that you did on Rollin’ On.” And I agreed with him! It kind of carried the torch as far as that goes without totally changing it up right after Rollin’ On.
Was that a concern that you had? That had you done anything different that the sound that you’ve been working to cultivate would shift in a direction that maybe you weren’t ready for?
No, not necessarily. I just felt like we still had more to do with Tommy. His steel playing and his dobro playing is just incredible, and I still felt like we had another record to make with him.
You had some fine musicians on the album in addition to Tommy! Kevin Smith on bass, the fantastic Ronnie Huckaby playing piano, and Hank Singer. The same fiddle player Johnny Bush calls the best out there today? That Hank Singer?
That’s the one!
And you got to do a duet in Spanish with Raul Malo! Tell me about that!
Man, I feel like I’m not worthy! That was incredible! I demoed that song, just did a quick phone demo, and I’d had the idea to do it with Raul for a long time ’cause I’d kind of gotten to know him through mutual friends and we’d done some shows together. I just shot him an email and asked him if he wanted to do it. He got back to me, said, “Hey, I love the song,” and he was into it! So I’m really glad that it ended up working out that way. Raul was a pleasure to work with and probably one of the most talented guys I know! Incredible, iconic voice! I’m really glad I was able to make the record sound a little better!