So, Alabama Shakes' Brittany Howard walks into a bar. . .
While it sounds like the makings of an Americana joke, it's actually what happened on the set of Jesse Lafser's new music video for "Jack Hat Blues," premiering exclusively on Rolling Stone Country. The East Nashville based singer-songwriter wanted to capture a relaxed, documentary-like feel for the lead single from her new LP, Raised on the Plains, which brings to life a sweeping, sonic panorama of her literal and emotional pilgrimages.
"I didn't want to do the typical music video thing," Lafser tells Rolling Stone Country, perched in a corner of East Nashville coffee shop the Post, in a crisp black T-shirt and hat that floats on top of shaggy dark curls. She's been told she resembles Bob Dylan before — or at least Cate Blanchett-as-Dylan — and it's not off-base, except for when she cracks a smile. There's no sneer there, just warmth. "I wanted to do something documentary, montage style. We were filming at [local bar] Mickey's Tavern, and Brittany just happened to walk in on a day when we were shooting on a random Saturday. She's so down-to-earth and really nice."
Howard ended up making a cameo, along with other local friends of Lafser's, around the foosball table. Lafser also took a borrowed antique white 1966 Thunderbird out for a spin. And, in keeping with the pieced-together feel, she also had three different people — Weston Heflin, Elizabeth Olmstead and Stacie Huckeba — film and edit. It's all very Nashville, with one major exception: splices of video from Lafser's solo travels out west, which inspired much of Raised on the Plains.
"I was in the car for 50 hours," she says of the trip that took her all the way out to New Mexico, where she gathered stories, like an encounter with an old rancher sporting a silver braid that inspired "Jack Hat Blues," and let her mind wander. "It was incredible, and I think because I went by myself, it was a pilgrimage in a way. There was this stretch of highway between Taos and Raton, I had no cell service and I was just listening to Gillian Welch, and the scenery was changing every 30 minutes. It was just beautiful, and I realized in that moment the record I wanted to make. I went home, and all the songs came out after that."
Lafser, who was born in St. Louis to hippie parents who became born-again Christians, moved to Nashville nine years ago and has been establishing herself on the circuit of local songwriters ever since. She released her debut, Land in Sight, in 2012, and for the follow-up, explored more deeply the narrative, imaginative aspect of her craft. The stories on Raised in the Plains, out April 28th and available for pre-order now on iTunes, aren't always literal tales, but they're true in emotion, inspired by clips of scenery or a passing stranger, or a night with three friends that formed into the sweeping "Rosie." The instrumentation paints the final part of the picture — luscious percussion evocative of sun-down drum circles, loose, chugging ragtime beats and sweet, soft fiddle all set to a voice that melds the raw qualities of her hero, Welch, with a gentle, starkly intimate touch.
"Artistically, I wanted the album to feel like the landscape of the southwest," she says. "I wanted the listener to feel as though they are right there in the passenger seat, as the stories unfold cinematically, with this sense of motion. Wide open, jagged, raw, uneven, wild, free."