photoPhoto by Neilson Hubbard
Rod Picott was Americana before it was even called that. He’s been going at it now for almost 20 years releasing 11 full-length albums along the way. He’s also got a new one coming out called “Tell the Truth & Shame the Devil” on July 19. About it, Rod says “It is by far the most intimate recording I’ve made, stripped to the bone, just the guitar, harmonica and me.”
I first noticed Rod when I heard the song “Broke Down” by his lifelong friend Slaid Cleaves who he first met in the second grade. This song, also recorded by Picott on his debut LP, was co-written by Rod and Slaid and is one of my all-time favorite story songs about simple folks having a tough time with this thing called life. It’s a genre that Rod Picott has mastered, and his catalog is chock full of great songs like this one. And I know that he’ll like to hear me say that there are traces of Springsteen in his musical style.
Rod keeps a busy touring schedule and will be travelling across the USA and Europe for most of 2019. Having published a book of poetry back in 2017, last year he also published “Out Past the Wires,” his first work of fiction, along with a LP of the same name. You can see Rod Picott at Grimey’s for an in-store performance and reading on Thursday, May 30 at 6pm. Thanks Rod for an enlightening 11 Questions.
Where are you from originally, when did you move to Nashville and why?
I grew up in Southern Maine. I moved to Nashville looking for a writer’s deal. I got close a few times, but it never materialized. One meeting ended with a publisher telling me that I was an artist and that I should figure out a way to make records – that the songs were great but not the kind of pop candy Nashville deals in. I took him at his word and it was one of the best decisions I’ve made. Against everyone’s prediction and advice – I turned myself into a touring singer-songwriter. The lesson? Nobody else knows how hard you are willing to work except you.
What are the first and the last records you bought, and where did you buy them? Were they CD, vinyl or digital?
I’m 54 years old so this question made me smile. The first album I bought was Elton John’s Captain Fantastic & the Brown Dirt Cowboy from a now defunct department store in Dover, NH. Amazing album and vinyl obviously. The latest I bought was Radney Foster’s For You to See the Stars. Digital. It’s a beautiful piece of work.
First and last live concerts that you’ve seen?
The first show I ever saw was Springsteen at The Music Hall in Boston 1978. It changed my life. I didn’t know you could be a rock star and sing about the community you came from. That show tilted my world upside down and shook the contents. The latest show I saw was Jason Isbell at The Ryman – a powerful experience.
Whose star should be added to the Music City Walk of Fame?
I would say Alison Krauss should be on that list. She’s crossed over the fences of country, pop, bluegrass, adult contemporary with ease and a beautiful body of work. She is a defining artist of her time. I’d also add Steve Earle and Gillian Welch, but you can see from my answers that I color outside the lines a bit.
Where do you go in Nashville for coffee and pizza?
For coffee I go to either Fido which can be a great meet up spot, or if I’m alone I go across the street in Hillsboro Village to Revelator Coffee Company who make a great cappuccino – dark full bodied and they don’t milk it down into a latte’. Nashville has upped its coffee game the last five years, or so which has been a huge relief. Once you’ve toured Italy the coffee table gets upended. Tour Italy a few times and you’re never the same.
Pizza in Nashville? There are a few that are trying to get it right but nobody I’ve tried has the real New York slice down. The pie out at Villalba in Nippers Corner is pretty good. Having said that, pizza is always good – even when it’s not!
What’s your favorite record to ever come out of Nashville?
Wow, that’s a minefield question right there. Dylan’s Nashville Skyline. Neil Young’s Harvest. I would have to pin it down to the Hank Williams Sr. recordings. I don’t know how you can top those songs. Dave Cobb is making great recordings in the modern era. Jason Isbell’s Southeastern in one of my favorite albums from the last decade. It’s a stunner.
Where’s the best place to eat late night after a show?
I don’t eat after shows anymore but back in the day I used to love going to the Heritage Café. The cooks were always these fascinating characters and funny to banter with. There were always a few folks trying to sober up and it was a great mix of interesting people. Everyone was loose. It was late. We were all in this little dive together waiting on our eggs and hash browns. It could have been a television series. They wouldn’t have even had to write anything. Just let the cameras roll.
The Bluebird calls and asks you to host an “In the Round.” Pick three local songwriters to join you.
Amanda Shires, Will Kimbrough and Jason Isbell.
What are your favorite music venues to play in town?
I still love The Bluebird even though it is mostly filled with tourists these days. I love the history of the room and they were always very good to me there. When I first moved to town it was my school. I would go several times a week to the early show and sit in the same seat at the end of the bar. I also like The 5 Spot which is very loose and fun. The Basement East is great as well, though a bigger room so it’s a more tightly run ship there. The American Legion Post is very fun. There is always some disaster with the p.a. but it’s a place out of time and great fun to watch the regulars mix with the younger crowd. The p.a. always manages to fire up somehow – at least one speaker anyway.
Name a musician who you’d like to see move here?
I would have said Leonard Cohen a few years back. Now I would say Tom Waits. He’s such an original and yet he’s an alchemist. To have one conversation would be thrilling. We’d talk about car parts, poetry and bird feeders I’m guessing.
Finally, what’s in your musical future?
A truck load of work. I’m very prolific. People always ask me how I get so much writing done. A screenplay, the first draft of a novel, two books of poetry (God in His Slippers, Murmuration – Mezcalita Press), a book of short stories (Out Past the Wires – Working Title Farm Press) and three albums in the last three years. I always have the same answer: No wife, no kids, no pets. I love the work. My blue-collar background gave me a work ethic that has no “off” switch. Writing songs and books beats the hell out of hanging sheetrock. That I’m absolutely sure of.