With his country lineage and out-of-the-box approach to American roots music, Shooter Jennings is the ideal guest for Chris Shiflett’s Walking the Floor podcast. In this new episode, the two talk about a unique career path that began in the shadow of Shooter’s father, country icon Waylon Jennings, and has since taken its own series of adventurous twists and turns, establishing Shooter as a boundary-breaking songwriter whose music is just as influenced by electronic-music pioneer Giorgio Moroder as the legendary outlaws he’s known since childhood. He’s also a newly minted Grammy winner, having co-produced Brandi Carlile’s Best Americana Album, By the Way, I Forgive You.
Below, we’re continuing our biweekly tradition of premiering the episode in full, as well as rounding up a quick list of episode highlights. Read, listen and return in two weeks for another installment of Walking the Floor.
Despite being born in Nashville, Jennings prefers Los Angeles to Music City.
“Nashville … I hate to say it, man, but it just bums me out,” admits Jennings, who stays with a lifelong friend in nearby Springfield, Tennessee, whenever he visits the city for work. “The whole hipster thing in East Nashville fucking drives me crazy … so I try to stay out of town when I’m there.”
Jennings’ core demographic isn’t a country audience. Instead, it’s an audience of adventurous listeners who aren’t afraid to follow him into the deep end.
“I always feel like challenging the audience is very important,” says Jennings, who has made a point of distinguishing his musical style from that of his parents. From the conceptual Black Ribbons to Countach (For Giorgio), his tribute to 1980s movie-soundtrack king Mororder, he’s steered his own path, chasing down a destination that’s entirely his own. “The ones who are really there for me musically are the ones who have grown to expect that they don’t know what’s gonna be next, and they like that,” he adds.
Nearly 15 years after recording his solo debut with Dave Cobb, Jennings continues to enjoy a working relationship with the Grammy-winning producer, whose career has ballooned exponentially since their first tracking session together.
“Dave had learned a lot,” Jennings says proudly. “He’s expanded a lot, especially having RCA Studio A. But when we get together, it’s exactly the same as it was years ago. It’s the same kind of vibe. He just knows more shit now.”
He’s a piano player at heart.
“I only started playing guitar out of necessity, really,” explains Jennings. “I played drums when I was little, and I took piano lesson early on. My mom plays piano, so I gravitated toward it, especially because I loved drums, and piano and drums [are] the same thing. It’s like a percussion instrument for that reason. Like, you push this button to make this sound. With guitar, you’ve got five different ways to hit the same note, and that always confused me.” These days, Jennings usually plays the guitar during his shows, but he hasn’t forgotten about his first love. “If every song worked with piano, I’d be like Regina Spektor,” he says.
That said, he didn’t enjoy taking piano lessons as a kid.
“I hated [piano lessons] because you have to do ‘Alouette’ and you have to do these fucking recitals,” he points out. “I hate recitals. I feel like playing a show is still like playing a recital. If I had it my way, I would do everything at home in my studio, and put it out like the Beatles, and not have to tour. I enjoy it, but my favorite thing is being alone and making something new.”