Hi Marty, Way Out West is coming out this week. Tell us the thought process behind the album…
Way Out West is a bit of a love letter to the American west. I was raised in the south, Mississippi, and one of the first records I had was called The Fabulous Johnny Cash. There was a song on there called Don’t Take Your Guns To Town and it blew my mind. It was one of the first country records I fell in love with. I remember Marty Robbins had a record called Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs, which had a song called El Paso. I just loved those kind of songs and we, as in me and my band, finally got around to write our love letter to the West. It is a very cinematic record. I want to take them to very edge of the Mojave desert and hand them a magic carpet to take them on a psychedelic sonic trip all the way through the Mojave desert. That’s what this record is about.
You are a prolific recording artist who has been celebrated for always playing with different elements of a genre specific sound. When you approach a new record, do you have a clear idea of what you want to achieve?
Yes. I wait around until the idea comes and then I make sure it is a good idea. I try to make it very focused. Almost like a book or a movie. I like records that are very direct. Not just 10 or 12 songs that are stuck together, I like them to travel to the same place.
You have achieved more than most dream to achieve. Can you recall your initial ambition?
I was practising my autograph in first grade. I started my first band when I was 9 and I was on the road when I was 12 and the the Grand Ole Opry at 13. I knew from the moment that I was born. It was just a matter of growing up and getting to a stage somewhere. My career was so wonderful as I started so young. I was with Lester Flatt and his band, then I was with Johnny Cash and his band. Then I knew it was time to get out start making records with my own band. I knew I had to get serious about it. Trust me there was lots of room for improvement. But I have evolved throughout that time, however it has always been country music. I come from that edgy part of country music where music always has a theme to it. At the end of the day, it all amounts to the songs and the quality of the songs. It’s always just been about writing great songs for me.
Looking back, do you have a favourite song you have written?
It changes every time the wind blows!
You play Country2Country this weekend, what can everyone expect from your set?
The set will be comprised of some of the older songs that gave use the reason to have a band and dress up in cowboy clothes in the first place. There will also be some of the new songs and maybe some songs they have never heard before – but I promise they will think all those songs are old friends by the time we have finished.
The line-up really shows the breadth of the country sound currently. What do you make to the current country scene?
I think it’s reaching a segment of people and a demographic that has never been touched before. From day one it was built to be a big part of pop culture, rather than just a side note on history. As of the OScars a couple of weeks ago, there were country stars walking the red carpet and they are on the front cover of non-country music magazines and it is now firmly ensconced in popular culture now. But the part of country I love is the roots stuff and the traditional side. For me those are the empowering forces, they will be there when the other stuff comes and goes. However I love Maren Morris and Brandy Clark, she writes real songs. I love Eric Church and what he to say. I love that country music is a real story. I suggest you start with the Carter Family and move across to what Taylor Swift does. There is something for everyone along the way.
You have worked with some iconic artists. Is there a young talent you would like to work with?
I don’t plan those things. For some reason people want to collaborate with me. I am a good collaborator – I enjoy working with people. There is a young guy called Charlie Worsham and I enjoy his songs. Usually my opinion on collaborations is that if it is supposed to happen, then it usually does. I go back to when Travis Tritt and I did a song together. We never knew we’d end up on stage together. I simply wrote a song called Whiskey Ain’t Workin’ and I didn’t need the song, I was done recording. I heard his voice and knew he could do the song. I sent it to his producer who asked me to come record guitar on the song. I headed over, Travis wasn’t at the studio and on my way out the producer asked me to record the second verse. I said it didn’t need it, that Travis could do it, but he told me to just do it. Six months later it was a hit and I didn’t even know it. I had never even met Travis, but then one day I joined him on-stage as just a walk-on and the place went ballistic. We just looked at each other and asked ‘what happened?’ Those things are always best when left to be organic and without all the planning. They just happen, you can’t create them.
Lastly, having achieved so much, how would you define your current ambitions?
I think the missing piece is the whole new generation of country fans that we are yet to touch. We want to find our way to the masses. I know the music we are producing is entertaining and touching and we just want to take it to all generations right now.