With the Foo Fighters winding their summer-long tour to a close, lead guitarist Chris Shiflett is shifting some of his focus back to his Walking the Floor podcast. Now at its 28th episode, the series finds Shiflett talking shop with songwriters, sidemen and storytellers. It’s a conversation between artists, essentially, with Shiflett — who joined the Foo Fighters in 1999, adding another bullet point to a resume that also includes a country-influenced solo project, Chris Shiflett and the Dead Peasants, as well as a 20-year run with the punk-rock cover band Me First and the Gimme Gimmes — asking questions that go beyond the standard Q&A fare.
In the newest installment of Walking the Floor, he sits down with Sturgill Simpson, the reluctant poster boy for country music’s left-of-center contingent. Simpson, who conducts the interview while changing his guitar strings before a show, talks frankly (and, sometimes, fiercely) about his time in the Navy, his career shift during his late twenties and, during some of the interview’s best moments, his real thoughts about all those Waylon Jennings comparisons.
Here are a few things we took away from the pair’s 40-minute conversation, which is well worth a listen in its entirety.
1. Simpson was discovered on YouTube. . .sort of. When Shooter Jennings — who would later give Simpson his first big break by introducing his music to producer Dave Cobb — first stumbled across the Metamodern Sounds in Country Music singer, it was on the Internet, where he found a clip of Simpson performing live. Later, while attending a Nashville concert with Cobb, Jennings spotted Simpson in the audience and pointed him out. Cobb took things from there. “I’m thankful for the rest of my life,” Simpson says. “I didn’t even know [Shooter]. My manager got an email from Dave that night, at three in the morning, saying, ‘I wanna make a record with Sturgill.'”
2. Long before he hit the highway with his country band, Simpson lived the outlaw lifestyle as part of the U.S. Navy. He signed up during high school, left town several days after graduation and spent a handful of years in various ports across the world. It was a stressful job, and Simpson — who struggled with his own drug problems as a teenager — says many seamen found illegal ways to cope. “There’s a lot of drugs taking place on warships,” he tells Shiflett. “You wouldn’t believe how many guys are watching radars and tripping on acid.”
3. The guy is a family man. With a newborn son at home and a wife who can rarely join the band on the road, Simpson — who’s toured consistently since Metamodern‘s release, playing more than two dozen festivals and late-night TV programs along the way — has been longing for some serious downtime in Nashville. “I feel like all this is happening, [and] the only place I wanna be is at home,” he admits.
4. He appreciates the fact that people compare him to Waylon Jennings. . . but Jennings isn’t a very big influence on his sound. “Maybe it’s an attitude thing more than a music thing,” he says. “Waylon really is a guy I probably discovered later on and listened to the least. Willie Nelson, Marty Robbins, Merle Haggard and Keith Whitley — guys like that were huge influences. I love Waylon; I like the funky disco kind of feel, and I incorporate a little bit of that in my music. But when I’m in singing. . . Man, if I’m imitating anybody, I’m trying to sound like three or four other people.”
5. Actually, he wouldn’t mind if people stopped likening him to Waylon. “You know what I honestly believe?” he asks during the interview’s final stretch. “I think it’s psychosomatic. I think people really want somebody right now to sound like Waylon Jennings. They want somebody to walk out on stage with a big, giant flag that says, ‘Fuck You.’ Believe me, it is frustrating, because it makes me feel like I haven’t done a very good job of really getting my [own] voice down. It’s like, ‘Am I not very original in my approach?’ But. . .there’s a hell of a lot worse things you can be told than, ‘Hey man, you sound like Waylon Jennings.’ I’ll take it a compliment, even when I’m burnt the fuck out hearing it.”