As Jason Isbell prepares for the June 16th release of his sixth album, The Nashville Sound, news of the Americana star’s “return to his rock roots” has drawn tons of attention.
According to Isbell and his team, the new record will not be another solo project like his previous two, the breakout Southeastern and Grammy-winning Something More Than Free. Instead, it will feature the full embrace of Isbell’s longtime band the 400 Unit, quick tempos and even some danceable rhythms.
Speaking with Rolling Stone Country at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum on Tuesday, March 14th for the opening of the new American Currents exhibit – which features Isbell’s personal items alongside heroes like John Prine and contemporaries like Margo Price – the singer-songwriter shed some light on the reality behind the headlines, and where his new music’s rock edge is coming from.
“If I could write rock & roll songs on purpose, I’d do it all the time,” the Alabama native and former Drive-By Trucker admitted. “But most of what I write comes out slow and sad, because that’s most of what I listen to.
“It was sort of a happy accident,” he went on. “I was just trying to make a record of where my life is and write the best songs I can, it just so happened that almost half of this record were songs that were uptempo and loud. That’s what they wanted to be, so that’s what I let them be. I never fight that.”
There are 10 songs on the somewhat ironically-titled The Nashville Sound, with striking titles like “If We Were Vampires,” “White Man’s World,” and “Molotov.” Isbell teamed up with red-hot producer Dave Cobb for the third time, extending their successful partnership. “It’s not broke, so I wasn’t gonna try to fix it,” Isbell said. Cobb’s background is actually more rock-based than country, so his input was a big part of the album’s sonic approach.
“It’s really easy to find the sounds I want with Dave, and we have a good time,” Isbell said. “Usually you get one or the other – you’ll get a visionary producer who is a total asshole, or you’ll get your buddy and you wind up doing all the production work yourself. Dave’s a nice mix of both things.”
Recorded over two weeks in January at Music Row’s historic RCA Studio A, Isbell says he’s just now getting to the point where he can listen to the finished result without picking it apart, saying he thinks it feels “really good and really strong.”
“I don’t think I could have worked any harder on writing these songs, and I think if I had worked any harder on recording them, it might have killed some of the magic,” he said. “I think we got right to the point of diminishing returns, and I’m really happy with it.”
He’s hoping his fans will be really happy with The Nashville Sound, too, but there’s already one thing he knows for sure.
“It’s gonna be harder for people to fall asleep in their own tears, as they probably have done for my last couple of records,” he joked.
The Nashville Sound arrives June 16th. Isbell and the 400 Unit will begin touring the next day in Asheville, North Carolina, with U.S. and European dates scheduled through November 14th.