Shooter Jennings’ last album was the ambitious, critically acclaimed Black Ribbons, a bleak look at a futuristic world that found the son of country legend Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter teaming with horror-meister Stephen King.
"I meant to establish something my own that was different from my dad and the whole country thing," Jennings tells Rolling Stone.
Having successfully achieved that goal, Jennings is back with a new album, Family Man, that firmly embraces his dad’s heritage and "the whole country thing."
"I actually didn't know this record was going to be so country," he admits. "[But] after Black Ribbons, I kind of stripped it down to my roots as much as I possibly could. And I kind of went after something that was a little different. And it ended up being really rootsy kind of country sound, but it was something that I felt really comfortable doing. I’m really proud of this record."
The collection was inspired by Jennings' own life as a family man, being a father and husband (Jennings is married to actress Drea de Matteo of The Sopranos), but it also took him very much back to his own dad.
"A record like this can only naturally bring me back to him. It's like he's around a lot more when I'm doing a record like this," he says. "Taking on really the record as a whole by myself, producing it myself, writing everything, definitely causes me to think about him a lot more."
And as he’s gotten older, Jennings finds himself empathizing quite a bit with his own dad. "Having kids and understanding myself, and understanding life, love and all the battles that go with that definitely has made me think about him," he says. "It's weird because my dad was such an awesome dad [and] I have a boy now, whose real name is Waylon. And I really wish that they had gotten to know him, but at the same time, it's like, it's been 10 years since my dad has been gone."
Like other famous progeny in the musical world, Jennings has struggled to find his own identity and break away from the expectations of others. Between the artistic success of Black Ribbons and gaining more self confidence as he’s gotten older, Jennings doesn’t really care anymore what others think.
"I'm always influenced by my dad, you understand? [But] Black Ribbons is like the Jacob Dylan dance record or whatever," he says, laughing. "That freed me up to care less if what I was going to do next was similar to what he was doing. [And] the older I've gotten, the less I've cared. And the less I've cared, the better what I'm doing has gotten. With this record, I definitely feel that I did something that was really true to who I am. And I definitely don't feel pressure right now when it comes to my dad, and I don't feel pressure when it comes to anything. I kind of feel liberated. I'm proud of that."
Working on the new country album also allowed Jennings to be more involved in his dad’s legacy. "I'm immersed with a lot of things with my dad," he says. One of those is a reported bio-pic, which Jennings says is coming along behind the scenes. "I have found a producer and a writer that I really like. And so we're kind of in steps of trying to at least outline the script," he says.
Jennings has a very specific idea of the time period he wants to cover. "Trying to get his whole life in a movie doesn't really interest me. I'd rather it focus on really the heart of his life, which was that Nashville battle, and how he won that," he says. "That's kind of the important part of the story, so for me, I definitely don't want to take it places like Ray and Walk the Line and stuff, where it's just like him picking cotton all the way to the end in two hours."
No one has been cast yet, but there have been names bandied about. One possibility that Jennings likes is actor Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker), who Jennings says "would probably make a pretty good choice."
Don’t expect to see Jennings in the movie. Asked if he’ll have a part, he laughs and says, "I hope not. I'd like to be in a lot of the background stuff, the music and stuff like that. But I have no interest in actually being in it."