Growing up in the same pocket of eastern Kentucky that once housed Sturgill Simpson, Tyler Childers took note of the region’s customs, challenges and characters. He sets that area to music with his newest album, Purgatory, an album of Appalachian-influenced Americana and raw, rural storytelling whose songs were co-produced by Simpson. As this week’s guest on Chris Shiflett’s podcast Walking the Floor, Childers lets his music do the talking, remaining a bit reserved until the interview’s final moments, where he unleashes a live performance on the acoustic guitar.
We’ve gathered up some highlights from the podcast, followed by the episode’s premiere below. Stay tuned later this fall for Walking the Floor interviews with Anderson East, Chris Stapleton and others.
Raised in the Baptist church, Childers received his earliest musical education during Sunday morning service.
“Music was a big part of the service,” he remembers. “That could go sometimes longer than the sermon, and the sermons last forever.” In addition to Southern hymnals, Childers began listening to the classic country of Merle Haggard and Buck Owens, as well as the ragged roots-rock of Drive-By Truckers. Still, gospel music ruled the roost during his early days. “I remember there were two tapes that my papa had in his truck at all times when I was younger,” he adds. “It was a Ralph Stanley gospel cassette and the Hee Haw gospel album.”
When it came to literature, he found inspiration far outside of his own pocket of Appalachia.
“I spent a lot of time with Kerouac early on,” says Childers, who found himself drawn to the pace of books like On the Road. “I just liked the Beat poets. It was rapid fire, in the moment.”
And just like Jack Kerouac, Childers doesn’t mind stacking his own art, which is often autobiographical, with elements of fiction.
“I’d say it’s a mix of personal experience with, frankly, tall tales and flat-out lies,” he says of the storytelling on Purgatory. “[It’s] a little bit of everything, all in there.”
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To Childers, touring is a lot like a baseball.
Initially focused on the music scenes in Lexington, Kentucky, and Huntington, West Virginia, Childers has steadily grown his touring operations in recent years. “Since 2011, the main focus has been to just play wherever, whenever, in as big a circle as we can, but be happy with the small circle we got,” he explains. “It’ll just get bigger. It’s kind of like a baseball. Once you start taking it apart, it’ll just fall apart, eventually.”
As a producer, Sturgill Simpson is proactive when necessary and hands-off when needed.
Simpson’s longtime drummer, Miles Miller, fell in love with Childers’ music at a concert. He then introduced the two singers, paving the way for the Simpson-produced studio sessions that produced Purgatory. “He got the right guys in the room, for sure,” Childers says of Simpson’s production style. “He nudged it where it needed to, and sat back when something was just fine where it was.”