What was the impetus for Americanitis?
I was inspired by watching what unfolded after the 9/11 attacks, and during the invasion of Iraq. I’m always writing, and although I’d love the luxury of conceptualizing an album, in reality I’m a working musician. I ended up with almost 50 songs, and I realized I had two records: one of conventional songs, and one documenting how I felt being an American in this era. I decided that the latter songs needed to be released first.
How do you write?
I’m juggling a lot of things at any given moment, so my technique for writing is—whatever and whenever. I’ve learned to write songs while doing daily tasks. I keep a notebook, and I write or record ideas on whatever is around.
Can you provide an example?
Some songs were recorded on a laptop using GarageBand or Pro Tools. When I wrote “Rag,” I recorded it into my iPod using a Griffin iMic, and on “Wind Blowin’ Change,” the main guitar and vocal was also recorded into the iPod. This wasn’t an attempt to be lo-fi, it was just that we decided these were the performances we wanted on the CD. It was totally fresh out of the oven! You can doll stuff up, but I’m trying to concentrate on making songs that stand on their own. Studio and gear snobbery are out the window. Does the music make you feel something? Listen to Led Zeppelin or The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. They played music in a room, recorded it, and put it out. It’s a moment in time, and that’s what I’m going for.
Did you also work in a studio?
I recorded at Eric McConnell’s in Nashville. I’ve worked there a lot with Todd Snider. I love the 8-track format and 1" tape. It sounds fabulous, but it takes discipline, because you can’t cram on overdubs. I ran out of time at Eric’s, so then I went to my friend Lij’s studio. He has an analog machine, Pro Tools, and a bunch of cool mics and mic preamps. But one of the album’s warmest-sounding songs is “Brand New Song,” which was recorded straight to Pro Tools with me in front of a Coles ribbon mic that was routed to an old tube preamp. The argument of analog vs. digital is very subjective!
What are your favorite acoustics?
I have an old Yamaha that I’ve recorded with—and taken on the road—for 20 years, as well as a ’20s Washburn parlor guitar, a Regal resonator, and a ’70s Guild D-25. I like cheap, old plywood guitars like Silvertones, Harmonys, and Stellas. I’m always looking for that expensive snobby guitar, but, to me, the premium is on inspiration. I had a whole day to write recently, and I played this awful ’70s Silvertone that I bought for $40. But something about that guitar inspires me to make up songs. It’s a cliché, but this guitar has got a lot of songs in it!