I was out back with a chainsaw when I was supposed to be talking to Aaron Raitiere. We’d sustained a tornado (later reported as EF1, and if that was a 1, I don’t ever wanna experience a 2), and blessed though we were with an intact roof and no crushing damage, the neighborhood had become a treacherous labyrinth of emergency vehicles, techs, and loggers. You might get out in the morning, but there were no guarantees you’d make it back home. I had wreckage to clear and no power, so a reschedule was set. Two weeks later, I’ve got Raitiere (pronounced RAY-T-AIR), a native of Danville, Kentucky, on the phone, apologizing and trying not to waste too much of the GRAMMY-winning songwriter’s time with explanations. He laughs and says, “Oh man, my whole life is on a rolling schedule change– I think permanently! I just kinda wake up and see what’s going on!” He asks after my family, I assure him everyone is fine, and he shares that his mother back in the Bluegrass State just dealt with the devastating whims of nature as well. “It’s a humbling thing,” he says as we discuss the potential purchases of egg-shaped storm shelters.
Based out of Nashville where he writes for Dave Cobb’s Low Country Sound, Aaron Ratiere has helmed songs with and for a stunning array of artists. His wit displays the flexibility of a yogi, his balance of phrasing is gold medal caliber, and every careful word lands a perfect jab to set up his devastating hooks. It’s no wonder he’s a go-to for friends and contemporaries like Anderson East, Miranda Lambert, Hayes Carll, Brent Cobb, and The Steel Woods (to name only a very few). Oh, and that aforementioned GRAMMY? He won that for helping craft “I’ll Never Love Again” from 2018’s A Star Is Born. Interestingly, despite the earned renown, Raitiere may have remained content to scratch out his excellent songs for others, testing them on dubious audiences throughout Music City’s ubiquitous writer’s rounds while the world turned around him, but his pals had other designs.
Single Wide Dreamer is Aaron Raitiere’s proper debut as a solo artist and an epic calling card inscribed with heavyweight, 100 proof provokers, heartbreakers, and toe-tappers. Wrangled and produced over a period of pre-pandemic years by East and Lambert, who also appear on the album, SWD features a pantheon of special guests including Waylon Payne, Ashley Monroe, and Natalie Hemby (all of whom share the pen), Frank Rische, and Robert Randolph. But the stars of the show are the songs.
The semi-autobiographical title track (co-written with Jon Decious) evokes the contradiction of Kristofferson’s pilgrim with a 21st Century self-awareness while “For The Birds” (originally recorded by Miranda Lambert) plants an ornithological flag for all that’s good and decent in Raitiere’s realm. Inspired by the great Guy Clark and mournfully propelled by Ben Clark’s trumpet, “Cold Soup” chronicles a down and outer cobbled from equal parts homegrown reality and painful observation. Crooning Irishman Foy Vance appears on “At Least We Didn’t Have Any Kids”, a sweetly wry lament on a love that left its mark that gives way to the softly rebuking “Dear Darlin”, as hardcore a country song as Nashville’s produced in decades.
Of course, Aaron Raitiere is nothing if not a study in clashing influences, and “Your Daddy Hates Me” (written with Nick Donley) flows with trap beats and whispered R&B posturing nudged along by bassist Brian Allen ahead of sliding into the aching balladry of “Tell Me Something True”, a song begging for a tear that gloriously devolves into the maniacal Roger Miller bombast of the Erin Enderlin co-written “You’re Crazy”.
There’s not a recording artist working in Nashville– or wherever for that matter– that couldn’t have a hit with any song from Single Wide Dreamer, and here’s hoping that includes, first and foremost, Aaron Raitiere. My ribs are still tender from all the laughing endured during this interview, and I encourage you, should the occasion present itself, to guffaw right out loud along with me!
Single Wide Dreamer is available now on CD & vinyl and across all major digital platforms.
AI- Let’s talk about this album of yours, and I wanna start with your nomenclature– you consider yourself a lyricist. What was the song or the album, or maybe it was just a single line that made the words stand out for you?
AR- Man, I think a lot of it for me is just what I listen to. I’ve always been attracted to the weird stuff, and I think if you got an option of ten songs to pick on a jukebox– and this could be proven wrong immediately because there’s hits right now that are called “Girl”, then there was “My Girl”, then there’s drinkin’ and more drinkin’, I’m sure– but there was a song I was tellin’ my dad about the other day called “Satan Gave Me A Taco”– have you heard of that one?
Don’t think that I have…
It’s an old Beck song. If my options were girl, drinking, party, truck, and “Satan Gave Me A Taco”, the first one I’m gonna pick is that! I don’t know if I’m into specific lines, but more or less like how words roll off your tongue. So tasteful alliteration, you know, stuff like that. But then you also have a little bit of that– I can hear it in your voice– that Southern poetry kind of thing goin’ where it’s like you hang around enough illiterate country but street brilliant kind of people– which I don’t know it’d be called street brilliant, but like field smart— and you combine all those words and some of the dialect that we grew up with not really thinkin’ was anything, throw it all together, and then I think the point where words is my thing is just when people started saying, “Hey man, your music’s alright– but I like your words.”
I never looked at myself as a singer ’cause I’m around singers all day. I mean, my best friend’s Anderson East! That’s a singer! And I never really look at myself as a guitar player ’cause I’m around guitar players all day that just shred– and I got a solid campfire guitar goin’! It’s kinda like a “know what you’re good at” thing. I just realized I’m good at that. So I’ll just let everybody else do their thing! It’s like, “Hey, anybody can make a website,” but that’s not true. Shouldn’t make a website if you’re not someone who’s good at that, then your website’s not gonna work as well. And I think it’s the same thing with lyrics. My friend Brent Cobb’s always sayin’, “Man, we’re songwriter-singers, not singer-songwriters.” I thought, “He’s a songwriter-singer!” I feel like I’m a songwriter-songwriter. For me, it’s just the song. I don’t know many people that are like, “Man, I sure love the way he hits that note!”
Was there some arm twistin’ involved to get you behind the mic for Single Wide Dreamer? ‘Cause you’d done some recording before, but you’ve primarily been a writer and then a live performer to, I guess, see how those songs play out in front of an audience. Were you just content to write?
I was fine writin’– and I’m still fine writin’. I’ve been playin’ writer rounds in Nashville for a while, it’s like three people on a stage tradin’ songs, so there’s never really pattern to it. But I got good at playin’ writer rounds for nobody, which if you can play for nobody, when you are playin’ for somebody, it makes it a whole lot easier! So I got used to that and then all this has been a little happy accident, like the little record that could, because we just talked about makin’ a record– Anderson and I did– for like 15 years probably! And then finally I was gettin’ into the Bluebird and writer rounds where I had an opportunity to sell CDs, and all the only CD I had was these homemade things!
It all just started as like, “Hey, we’re gonna give you something respectable to sell at the Flora-Bama next time you’re down there.” And then we just made this record that was great! And I’m not sayin’ [I’m] great, but it was great in the sense of like all these great musicians! All these other musicians, singers, people kept swingin’ by the office and sayin’, “Hey man, well hell, I’ll put a solo on that,” or, “Hell, let me just do a harmony!” Half the people on this record, we didn’t even really even ask them to do anything, they just were like, “Hey, let’s do somethin’!” Foy Vance I met when he was puttin’ his harmony on my record– ’cause he was in town! Anderson and him are great friends and they had some drinks and some dinner and Anderson took him back and was like, “Listen to this song we’ve been workin’ on…”
Which one is that?
“At Least We Didn’t Have Any Kids”. He’s from Ireland and him and Anderson just put somethin’ out together. It was called “Sapling”. Have you heard of him? Foy Vance?
Anderson was a big fan. I remember they met at some festival and he came out and sang all the harmonies to his lyrics and they were like, “What in the hell?”
I don’t have the liner notes for the album, but I know Miranda Lambert and Anderson were involved as producers and instigators, and then I saw Foy Vance’s name mentioned somewhere. Who else stopped in to hang out with you on this album?
Around then, I wrote a bunch of songs on Robert Randolph’s [Brighter Days]. I don’t know if he’s made another one since then, he may have, but me and Robert were just writin’ a bunch. Anderson and I share an office at RCA, and Robert was making his record there and I was writin’ on it with him, and so we would just hang out in my office and one day, we just played him some of my record. He was like, “Well man, lemme just throw somethin’ on there,” so he plays the slide part on “For The Birds”. And then same thing happened with Bob Weir from the Grateful Dead. He and I were writin’ on a… It was three, now about four years ago– and we’re still writin’! He just sang a song out the other night at Radio City that me and him have been workin’ on!
I saw that you had mentioned in an interview, that you were writin’ with Bob, and I had a note to ask you about that.
That’s just some surreal thing! I feel like I sound like I’m nuts! Most of the time I miss the texts, so I’m wakin’ up to texts from Bob! He called me once at two in the mornin’– I mean, I’m asleep at two in the mornin’! I wake up, “Hey man, what’s goin’ on?’ He’s like, “I’m thinkin’ we should change the key of our song from E to A!” I’m like, “Alright, good idea, man,” but thinkin’, “This shit could have, waited! If it was somebody else, I’d be like, ‘Listen, don’t you ever fuckin’ call me at this time!'” (Laughs) And I’m like, “Alright, brother, we’ll do it!” We’ve done ZOOM writes at one in the mornin’ just ’cause he’s, “Hey man, are you up? I’m feelin’ it!”
But what’s just absurd is that he hit me up! I mean, there’s a bazillion other people he could write with! I have no idea, man! When we were writin’ a few years ago, I was drivin’ him around, pickin’ him up, and we went to Whole Foods and got in a traffic jam on 65. Everybody was laughin’, callin’ me “Bob’s bitch” ’cause I was takin’ him wherever he needed to go! He had a driver with an Escalade and all that shit– and a bodyguard– and they would follow us! And I had a Camry with french fries on the floor (laughs)! It’s really just weird as hell! I can’t explain it! I met his family, they’re all really sweet, we’ve been writin’ about really intimate and personal shit, and I’m proud to say that guy’s my friend!
Let’s talk about intimate and personal. I want you to tell me about “Cold Soup” because I can’t tell if that song is observational, if you’ve lived it– because I know so many of the songs on the album are personal.
That’s one of my favorite songs I ever wrote. There’s a Guy Clark song called “Cold Dog Soup”…
That’s what I read the first time I saw it and didn’t realize that’s not what it said ’til later!
Yeah, it’s an indirect tip of the hat! It doesn’t have anything to do with his “Cold Dog Soup”– that was like one of my favorite songs, one of the first songs I ever learned. I wrote that with one o’ my best friends, Jake Mitchell. It was Christmas Eve, and we’re both– how do you say it? Kids of divorce? (Laughs) So holidays are always weird and I’m always on my own holiday schedule. We might do Christmas tomorrow or somethin’, you never know!
Me and him are hangin’ out and we’d been pretty much just smokin’ and drinkin’ and bein’ bums on Christmas Eve in Nashville. We were at RCA and we walked down to Winners, which was open– in midtown, there’s Winners and Losers– and ordered some vegetable beef stew that was on the menu. They have pretty good food down there, generally, but the bartenders weren’t so pumped– nobody was happy to be there, it was Christmas Eve– and they brought out this… It was congealed! It was cold as shit! And the bar bartender was hot! She was a good lookin’ woman– and he’s got a girlfriend now of I think two years, but Jake was into her and I was like, “Damn, man, this soup is cold!” And he’s like, “Well, we gotta eat it.” I was like, “Why do we have to eat it? Let’s let ’em microwave or somethin’!” And I don’t know why, but we both just sat there and ate it (laughs)! It was top three worst meals! I threw up on the walk back!
At the same time, I’d gone through this quick break up and I’d moved down to this condo next to RCA. It was one of these monstrosities and I’d sit on my balcony and just watch homeless guys like birds, pretty much. There was three or four guys– and I knew their whole life! One of ’em lived in the shed below me and one of ’em lived up against the wall– he had a motorcycle that had been there for a year and a half and it was leaned against the wall with a tarp on it, and he’d get in between the wall and the motorcycle. And then there was another guy… But it was a combination of all this happenin’.
We went back after eatin’ that and we wrote “Cold Soup”, but I had been tellin’ him [about the homeless guys]. I’d been narratin’ to all my friends like, “Danny’s goin’ apeshit today!” Danny was his name. I’d introduced myself to Danny. He’d be out there sorority girl drunk! All these bums, they’d get white girl wasted! “The Summer of ‘Old Town Road'” is what I called it. It was right when that shit was comin’ out, and I lived in the middle of the pedal tavern path. Every ten minutes startin’ at eight o’clock you’d hear, “Woooo!” And these girls would come around the corner and there’d be a whole trolley load of just wasted-ass bachelorettes mostly.
They had those pedal taverns that you have to buy your own booth, so they drop ’em off at the station and everybody gets their eight pack of White Claw or whatever and they drink six of ’em and then they get off the pedal tavern down at Broadway– and there’s this line of homeless dudes like bears waitin’ on salmon! The pedal taverns just drop these girls off, so you stand there until you fill up your bag ’cause every ten minutes, there’s another tavern full of chicks with two beers each to give away! These guys would come back and have white wine, vodka, Trulys, White Claws– that’s pretty much it– and would just get hammered! It was a combination of watching this guy eat cold soup all the time, then goin’ down and havin’ some myself, and then throwin’ up and then bein’ like, “How in the world could you do that every day and enjoy the hell out of it?” And then I’m like, “Prolly because whatever the hell else you were doin’ sucked a lot worse!” Or maybe you’re just nuts, I don’t know!
You brought up “For The Birds” earlier. Miranda Lambert recorded a version of that song, and I saw a wonderful line you said, “The best part of writing a song is when it’s over.” What is your relationship to a song once it makes it out there in the world? Is it just, “Bye, see ya, hope you live your best life?” Or do you still feel some attachment to it?
I think it’s, “Bye, see ya!”
Do they ever get to come back around for you again like “For The Birds”?
Not really, no. Usually, when you write a song for somebody else, it’s their song. I call it the Land of Songs Left Behind and that’s where most songs go. If you’ve ever written a song that was worth anything or pretty great, then that’s probably where it is right now. It’s sitting out there in the Land of Songs Left Behind (laughs)! And then all this garbage makes it– and here and there, good stuff makes it, but there’s a lot of politickin’ in music. Nice guys win a lot of times too, and they don’t even necessarily have to have good music. They can just be really nice.
Is that why you’re content to mostly spend your time writing?
I like writin’ ’cause I have a hard time singin’ the same song every night– or finishing anything or payin’ attention. I mean, some people call it ADD or whatever– I think I’m just me. I’m just thinkin’ in squirrels and rainbows all afternoon and structure’s kind of hard for me. When I get out on the road, I have 3000 songs goin’ through my brain and I’m ready to change the setlist every night like it’s a Phish show or a Dead show or somethin’! Like, “Man, let’s do this and we’ll go into this and do this, ” and they’re like, “How ’bout you just play your damn record and we’ll try to sell records? Everybody wants to hear these three songs for sure. And you didn’t even play ’em!” I’ve gone out and not played “For The Birds”, and then people were like, “Dude, you didn’t even play ‘For The Birds’!” I’m like, “Oh, shit! But I had a great time!” (Laughs)
Is that the only track on the album that’s been recorded before?
I think so. And I’m hopin’ that maybe some of these songs’ll be cut. There’s artists like Lori McKenna or Travis Meadows, some of these songwriters, they put out songwriter records. Lori McKenna wrote “Humble & Kind” by herself, and then Tim McGraw cut it and it was this big deal. I think if somebody took “Cold Soup”? Or maybe there’s somethin’ in there for somebody else? So I’m also hopin’ they might find another place. You’re always attached to those songs, and definitely, somebody’s been like, “Hey man, have you heard this?” And here’s one of your songs that you had no idea anybody had even recorded! Once you got so many, if every one of ’em’s your little kid, I mean, I got ’em all over the place! I don’t even know what they’re doin’! Out there ruinin’ your name and makin’ it better and everything else, you know?
Well then let me ask you this, with that notion in mind of a songwriter’s record, your hip hop influences come out strongly on “Your Daddy Hates Me”.
Yeah! There’s like that little “t-t-t-t-t-t-tsss”!
Tell me where you wanna see that land.
Man, I gotta give Anderson a hundred percent credit on the vibe of that thing because he was like, “We need to just do something different.” When I play it solo, I just do like a chunky thing on acoustic, but it’s probably my favorite of all the recordings. I’m real curious to see what’ll happen with it ’cause it seems like it could be like one of them crossover songs!
Some o’ that stuff seems like somebody could sample just the bass line, put a bigger beat behind it, just leave the chorus, “Your daddy hates me,” and then rap on top of it or somethin’. But I’m open to all of it, really! I’m proud of that one! Brian Allen, he plays bass on most of Dave Cobb’s big projects– that’s who I write for is Dave– and it’s funny how the whole machine works, ’cause you’d think like, “Yeah, he wrote that song.” You sit there and you hire your guy and you say, “Alright, I want it to sound like [imitates heavy, distorted bass],” and then he’ll go, “Like this?” Yeah, like that! But… I don’t know if I could play that myself! The whole thing blows my mind! It blows my mind how all that works!
You have a wonderful knack for juxtaposition and just from this conversation that we have had for the very first time, that seems to play a huge role, not only in just your everyday life but in your creative process. I think that some songwriters would shun that kind of change from style to song to back again. You look at a fantastic heartbreaker like “Tell Me Something True” followed up with “You’re Crazy”, you’re showin’ your Roger Miller and your Shel Silverstein there!
Two of my favorites!
Do you feel that when you do it, do other people notice how you take the absurd and the sublime and mix them interchangeably?
I hope so! It all comes back to my favorite part bein’ the lyric. A lot of times I’ll just be like, “Hell, let’s write this like it’s a reggae song and just get the meter right,” and then give a lyric to a band and say, “You know what? I’m just gonna leave and y’all let me know how it turns out!” Because if the story’s there and the lyric’s there, then you can put it to anything. That’s why I’m more of a lyricist ’cause then you can just throw down a 808 or the trap beat or a reggae beat.
There’s a song called “If We Never Go”, actually, that I wrote with Brent Cobb that was cut by a band called the Steel Woods, and they’re like Southern rock, like [imitates heavy guitar sound]! It’s probably the softest song on their record. I love that record, it’s called Straw In The Wind. That whole record’s pretty great! They cut a bunch of Brent Cobb songs too! But then my buddy that writes a bunch of Luke Combs songs and shit like that, he just put a band together called See Creature, and he says it’s like Southern, fat, Georgia, Kentucky– he’s from Jersey– white guy reggae! Jobe Fortner’s in the band– he’s from [Georgia]– and it’s got rock n’ roll elements, but it’s reggae. They just cut “If We Never Go”, put horns on it, and it’s three guys singin’ harmony! It’s the same story and it’s the same lyric– and it’s almost better than the way we did it!
For me songs are words, and if I’m playin’ music, man, it’s gonna be a bluegrass song or a country song ’cause I only know E, A, B, G, C, D, and the occasional F! And that’s it! All my songs sound the same! The record’s got good production and there’s so many elements happenin’, it’s an entertainin’ thing– but when I’m playin’ live, I got some songs in E and some songs in G and that’s about it! It’s all just the story and words.