Don't count on Sturgill Simpson to do anything by the book.
Ten months after the independent release of Metamodern Sounds in Country Music — an album that was recorded in less than a week, with a budget of $4,000 and an Estonian lead guitarist who'd grown up playing blues and rock & roll instead of country — the singer has signed a major-label deal with Atlantic Records. The news arrives on the tail end of a busy year that also included a surprise Grammy nomination, multiple late-night TV appearances and a win at the 2014 Americana Music Awards. Not to mention acclaim from virtually all corners of the music-loving public, from cowboy-hatted country fanatics who herald Simpson as the next Waylon Jennings to psychedelic hippies who are familiar with the "reptile aliens made of light" mentioned in Metamodern's lead-off track, "Turtles All the Way Down."
While Simpson's publicist confirmed the signing to Rolling Stone Country today, country-music blog Saving Country Music began putting the pieces together last night by pointing out a list of Atlantic artists on the label's website, Simpson among them, slated to play Coachella. Then Simpson's Facebook page made it official by uploading an image of an old-school 45 record with the artist's name printed beneath the Atlantic logo. The image also included a list of icons who've recorded for the label, including the Rolling Stones, Ray Charles (another artist who explored modern sounds in country music) and fellow country rule-breaker Willie Nelson.
Simpson will spend much of 2015 on the road, playing a handful of festivals — including Coachella, Stagecoach and Bonnaroo — and, in the final show currently listed on his website, opening up for the Avett Brothers at Red Rocks Amphitheater this summer. In the meantime, he's already begun working on a new record with Dave Cobb, who produced Metamodern Sounds in Country Music and 2013's High Top Mountain.
"Sturgill is in his prime and we're going to capitalize on that," Cobb told Rolling Stone Country last summer. "We're already doing something totally different, and it will probably make a lot of people mad. It's already crazy. We've already plotted it and started it."