Sometimes you have to feel the music to really hear it.
That was the approach singer/songwriter Rod Picott took as he headed into the studio to lay down the tracks for his latest record, Tell The Truth & Shame The Devil, which dropped earlier this month.
Armed with his voice, a guitar, and a harmonica, Picott stripped these songs to the bone, adopting a warts-and-all approach to the recording that makes the songs nearly visceral for the listener.
There’s a power in these songs, and Picott’s raw performance, that makes this a stand out record for 2019.
I was lucky enough to catch up to Rod to chat about politics (almost), swinging a hammer, and the brand new record.
BRO – I read that you used to work in construction. More satisfaction in finishing a building or crafting a song?
RP – Indeed I did. Right out of high school, I went into construction. I sanded drywall that first day of work. At the end of the day, my fingertips were literally bleeding. Not red and sore. Bleeding. I remember saying to myself, “I am not doing this.” Then, of course, I spent the next twenty years as a drywall finisher and hanger. I took pride in my work and was very good at a very tough job. I did take some satisfaction in doing a good job, but there’s no question that writing a good song is far more satisfying. There is a moment when you write something that really works and you feel almost blessed. After all these years, I still can’t quite explain how it works. It’s still magical when a song comes together. It’s creation, something that exists that didn’t exist when you woke up that morning. That’s some kind of magic.
BRO – Your voice, a guitar, and a harmonica. Any trepidation at stripping these songs down so deeply as you went into the studio?
RP – Absolutely. It was a real challenge, but it was one I embraced. I wanted to try to make an album that sounded exactly like the live show, but I was also challenging myself to be as brutally honest and raw as possible. I did have some trepidation. The critics have been kind to me over the years, and Tell The Truth And Shame The Devil is a different beast. It’s more confessional, more personal, and less narrative than my past work. I wanted the listener to feel that they were with me in the very moment of the recording. That’s why we didn’t wipe the recording clean. We left all the dirt on there. Slaid Cleaves and I always give each other short reviews of each other’s work. “Well, I don’t know how you did it, but you did.” That was his review of the new album. High praise from a man of few words.
BRO – I have been a fan of Slaid Cleaves for years. How does writing with him affect you as a songwriter?
RP – We have slightly different skills. Slaid is profoundly talented with melody and structure. He’s always challenged me to keep digging for small musical details that make a song sing and phrase gracefully. I’ve challenged him with a sense of the cinematic and I’m vigilant about who a character is, where they are from, and how they would speak. We are very hard on each other and pull no punches, but it’s all for the sake of the song. We always put the song first. Every details is about making a better song. He’s my favorite co-writer and one of the smartest people in my orbit. He once changed an entire engine in his van the day before he left for a tour. He built his own A/C unit. Slaid is an anomaly and an outlier.
BRO – We are featuring “Ghost” on this month’s Trail Mix. What’s the story behind the song?
RP – It’s a song that came right out of a health scare I had last winter. In some ways, it’s a song about self-loathing, which is of course not exactly a fun place to put yourself as a writer, but it’s an accounting of my life in a philosophical sense. I was asking myself tough questions, not necessarily finding any answers, but asking important questions and facing the facts with a killer’s dead eye. It was cathartic and a bit scary, but I needed to look at the math of myself at that moment, so I got out the calculator and started adding.
BRO – Man. I want to ask a political question based on the new record’s title. Should I?
RP – Ha! Fitting in many ways, isn’t it? Where has the truth gone? I believe it’s been on vacation a bit too long. I think it’s on an extended golf trip.
Rod will continue singing his truths and shaming those devils along the road throughout the end of July and August. You can hear him on WFMU in Nashville this Saturday and then around the Southeast until mid-August, when he’ll be heading north to Canada for a run of gigs.
For more information on Rod Picott, his new record, or when he hits a stage near you, please check out his website.
And be sure to take a listen to “Ghost,” along with new tunes from Hackensaw Boys, Grant Farm, and Amanda Anne Platt & The Honeycutters on this month’s Trail Mix.