There must be something musically mystical flowing in the waters in Eastern Kentucky.
In recent years, Chris Stapleton and Sturgill Simpson, both of whom hail from Kentucky’s Appalachian Mountains, have risen to stardom, reminding people what country music is supposed to sound like.
You can add Tyler Childers’ name to the list making a convincing argument that Eastern Kentucky is the new hotbed for Americana songwriting.
Childers, a native of Lawrence County, released his debut record, Purgatory, produced by the aforementioned Simpson and David Ferguson, whose previous work includes projects by Johnny Cash and John Prine, earlier this month. The record, complete with barnyard fiddle, banjo rolls, and Southern gospel flair, has been received with critical acclaim, garnering high praise from the likes of NPR Music and Rolling Stone, and it debuted at #1 on the Billboard Heatseekers chart.
Childers’ tour schedule is packed. Early summer saw him on the road with the likes of Parker Millsap, Nikki Lane, and Yonder Mountain String Band, while future dates include shows with fellow rising star Colter Wall and roots rockets Drive-By Truckers.
I recently caught up with Tyler to chat about the new record, working with Sturgill Simpson, and raising well rounded children.
BRO – I live in Southwest Virginia, just across the state line from your Eastern Kentucky. This record sounds like home to me. Is there something about mountain music that allows for that kind of connectivity?
TC – Jim and Jesse McReynolds, Ralph Stanley, those guys were from over your way and working that sound out over the radio waves the same time as the rest of our neighbors. It might feel like home because we are connected in the culture that acted as inspiration for these folks to pull from. The similar terrain meant similar struggles in transportation for early mountain people. This meant strong family ties that revolved around the home. Church acted as a community gathering area. Similar soil composition gave similar agricultural opportunities, and similar minerals meant similar exploitations of our communities.
BRO – Easier to get to heaven or hell if you are hanging out in purgatory?
TC – That’s probably a question better suited for a priest, but I would say heaven.
BRO – You and Sturgill Simpson. Kindred spirits?
TC – I consider him a friend and have a pretty high opinion of the man. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity that has been to me through the time he took to help me. I feel we are on a similar mission to make honest art.
BRO – We are featuring “White House Road” on this month’s Trail Mix. What’s the story behind the song?
TC – It’s a character built out of my own observations of some folks around me at the time, as well as my own orneriness. It’s just a song reckless abandon.
BRO – Speaking of that song, my nine year old got out of the van the other day singing, “We’ve been sniffin’ that cocaine . . . ” Should I be concerned?
TC – I did not write these songs for nine year olds, but if you want to listen to them with your nine year old, that’s all you. I’ve seen children both sheltered and exposed, and I think something in the middle is the healthier of the two.
Thankfully, Ben still listens to a lot of music with a naive ear, and I think Susie and I are doing a mighty fine job raising Ben right there in the middle that Tyler referred to. I am also sure that any time Ben spends in Purgatory is better than equal time spent in the hell that is modern radio.
And I can also tell you this – come September, when we catch Tyler Childers in Bristol, Ben will be right there and singing along.
Childers is in the midst of a run of dates throughout the Northwest and Midwest before he returns closer to home in late August. For more information on tour dates and how you can find a copy of Purgatory, please visit his website.