“If you need twelve-string electric guitar strings at three in the morning, you can get them here,” says JD McPherson about his new home of East Nashville, where he moved from Tulsa, Oklahoma, last year. It’s true – the tools of the trade are everywhere in Music City, but inspiration doesn’t come free with a new zip code. Instead, it took a dose of self-doubt, several false starts, a sojourn in Los Angeles with Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme and a stay at a storied studio (Nashville’s RCA Studio B) to lead to his forthcoming LP, Undivided Heart & Soul. And his newest track, the Jerry Lee Lewis-in-the-key-of T. Rex rocker “Crying’s Just a Thing That You Do,” premiering exclusively on Rolling Stone Country, expresses how that anguish can breed some fearless and flawless rock & roll.
“I had this guitar riff that was really simple, and I had this idea about cheapening an emotion,” says McPherson about the concept for the song. “About being in a relationship with someone who is completely inconsolable, someone who enjoys being in a dark place. It might be semi-autobiographical. The song was written with Butch Walker, who has his thumb in a lot of pies but was super great to work with, and we have a lot of things that we are similarly interested in. And we banged it out in two takes. It’s such a different expression of roots.”
Like working with Walker, McPherson purposefully co-wrote and collaborated outside of his band for the first time with Undivided Heart & Soul (the follow-up to 2015’s Let the Good Times Roll), recruiting Aaron Lee Tasjan and Parker Millsap and even composing a song with his wife Mandy. And though Homme isn’t on the record, it was McPherson’s trip out to Los Angeles that shook him loose of some creative stagnation – and let him feel more free to explore other corners of his capabilities that didn’t directly align with the revivalist rock & roll he’s come to personify.
“It was a really nice thing that Josh did to sort of help his buddy get out of a rut,” says McPherson. “I was so worried about everything. And he said, ‘I like you, I like your music, but I do not like how much you worry about things. So we’re going to strap on guitars and make noise for two days, and keep throwing crazy stuff on top of it and taking these left turns.’ That stomped out the fire of fear a bit. It was really only a model of trying to get JD out of his musical rut, and have fun again. Like when you’re a kid, you’re doing it just for fun.”
McPherson returned to Nashville ready to record, and headed to the legendary RCA Studio B with his band and producer Dan Molad (drums for Lucius) with enough fuzz and fury to make those country ghosts shake. From the pure, jittery rock & roll of “Crying’s Just a Thing That You Do” to some more personal, sentimental moments, Undivided Heart & Soul is a record that sounds full of vital urgency because it was never once dialed in. Rather, it takes true effort to make something effortless.
“At every single turn there was something to climb over,” says McPherson. “But looking back over it now, I love the push and pull of it all.”
Undivided Heart & Soul is out October 6th on New West.