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Will Kimbrough

A Conversation with Will Kimbrough

Puremusic: Hey, Will, it's Frank Goodman. How you doing, man?

Will Kimbrough: Hey, Frank.

PM: Just first I want to know how you're doing, and how's the family, before we get launched into things.

WK: Yeah, I'm good. Just leaving tomorrow for a tour, and I'm just fine. The family is great.

PM: That's great.                                     

WK: I'll miss them.

PM: Yeah, right. How long is this particular leg you're about to embark on?

WK: I'm playing 12 shows on the East Coast in about--I'll be gone about like 20 days.

PM: So are those your shows, or Rodney shows?

WK: They're my shows.

PM: Your shows, great. Good for you. Since it just left, give me a quick look back at 2007. What kind of year was that for you?

WK: Well, I had a great year. I played about 100 shows. I put out a record. I put out an EP. That's been a great thing for me, and I've really been happy with it. And I mean, personally it was great. My two kids are thriving and smart and funny and beautiful.

PM: Fantastic. I caught on to Americanitis late and realized later what a good record that was. How do you see the segue from that record to the current EP?

WK: Well, I mean, that was 17 songs, which may have been too many, but it doesn't matter now. But having found all these songs--having found myself making some sort of a statement, for lack of a better word, I didn't intend to back away from it. On the other hand I didn't want to just repeat myself.

PM: Right.

WK: The last song on the EP is called "Love is the Solution." And that really was sort of my answer, if anything was. On Americanitis, I got actual hate mail once.

PM: Really?

WK: Yeah. No big deal, not like, "I'm going to kill you." It's just more like, "American love it, or leave it" kind of thing, typical stuff.

PM: Right, sure.

WK: And another was from an old friend who said, "Well, you liberals always bitch about what's wrong and what do you think we should do about it?" And I had no answer. But for me the overall answer is that humans need to evolve, and so if we could all practice kindness and tolerance and compassion like the Buddha...

PM: Yeah.

WK: And I don't know if Christianity totally says it anymore, but I think whenever Jesus spoke, they usually say that he said that, too.

PM: Yeah, I think Christ said it. [laughs] I don't know if Christianity says it, but I think he did.

WK: Yeah. So those are words to live by. They're difficult to live by. I mean, Christianity and Buddhism both said it, "Look at your enemy as an opportunity to practice tolerance and compassion." So anyway, I wrote a song called "Love is the Solution," because it's the only solution that I can come up with, other than "don't go to war unless you have to," things like that.

PM: Right.

WK: "Don't profit off of war." Things that are common sense. So I tried it. I thought, I'm making a record, I have an opportunity to answer that question. [What do you think we should do about it?] Because one came from a close old friend of mine who I think is sort of apolitical, but would probably find himself voting for a Republican just because of tax issues and things like that. I could say, "I respect that." But I have to say, I don't really. Although I do respect my friend, it was kind of an answer to an old friend of mine.

PM: Yeah. I do understand fiscally why people vote Republican, but anymore it's more a question of "What are you going to have with it?" I mean, come on.

WK: Right, right.

PM: I really enjoyed this new EP. I thought that Americanitis was great. But like I say, I got on to it late. So I was really happy to hop on this one fairly well on top of it. What length of time did the songwriting span for the seven tunes on this record?

WK: Well, there's a song on there called "Godsend," that I actually released another version of on a record by the same name.

PM: That's right.

WK: So I actually started writing that song in the early '90s. And it's a real simple song, so it's not like I had to spend 10 years writing it, or 15, or however long it's been. But I have to say that I rewrote it a few times, and then I sort of discovered what kind of song it really was.

PM: Wow.

WK: And I love those deceptively simple little songs. And I started playing that song the way that it's recorded on the EP. And it really seemed to reach people. And then honestly, one thing was at the end of the night people were like, "Where can I get that song in that version?" And I recorded it, and I put it up on my myspace page, and people could download it. But when you're at the gig, you want that immediate thing, so I recorded it because I think there was a little demand for it from the live gigs. And so I recorded it--I actually took the version I had put up on myspace and finished it off with an upright bass on it and stuff like that. But some of the other--"Horseshoe Lake" is a song I wrote with Todd Snider back in the '90s. He released it on a record and I never had released my version, which is somewhat different in a sense. I mean, they both have an obvious kind of Springsteen influence. Todd's version was the E Street Band version, and mine was sort of the Ghost of Tom Joad version.

PM: Right. [laughs]

WK: So I don't mind paying homage to Bruce.

PM: Absolutely not.

WK: Some other stuff was brand new. "Hill Country Girl" is a brand new song.

PM: That's really my favorite on the record. I think that's a great song.

WK: Yeah, it links my work to my love of things like--well, artists like Townes Van Zandt in particular.

PM: Yeah.

WK: I mean, Rodney Crowell, who I work with often, he said, "Oh, you've got your Townes Van Zandt song now." And I thought, wow, he ought to know.

PM: That's an amazing thing to say, coming from Rodney.

WK: And then I wrote "Yellow Mama," too. That's a song I've had swimming in my head for years, and never finished it. The electric chair in Alabama, the nickname is "Yellow Mama."

PM: Oh, thank you for clarifying that.

WK: Yeah. It's a song about somebody on death row. It's an interesting, weird thing. At the same time I didn't want to explain it. And actually, Cody Canada from Cross Canadian Ragweed says they've been playing that song at their shows, and there's actually a Youtube video up of it of all these--this huge crowd of college kids in Texas or Oklahoma or somewhere, kind of singing along by the end of the song, which is kind of cool.

PM: That's amazing.

WK: So some of the songs are new. "Horseshoe Lake" and "Godsend" were songs I had kicking around and wanted to either record my own version or make a new version. And then the rest was new stuff. I mean, at one point it got up to like 13 or 14 songs, and I was just going to make it a record. I kind of wish I had. But we run our own label, and one of the things that gets in the way sometimes is are we going to be able to promote this record and hire a publicist full-time for actually launching the disc properly.

PM: Right.

WK: And at the time we just thought I needed a record to sell at shows in between records. And it sort of took on a life of its own. We had some false starts with our distributor, whether they were going to pick it up or not. And mostly they were just busy, and meetings that we had with them got postponed, and postponed. And finally we just put the record out. And then they said, "Hey, what's this record you've got out?" "It's this one, and check it out." And they said, "We want it." And it's been on the Americana Charts for months now, it's still on there.

PM: Wow.

WK: So that's been cool. I don't know about big records, but there are some heavy hitters in that radio chart right now, and that have been there for a while.

PM: Yeah, there are always some big ones in the top 20 of the Americana Chart.

WK: You find yourself sandwiched in between the Eagles and Merle Haggard and then Robert Plant and Alison Krauss are up at the top. And then I can't believe I've been above Chuck Prophet's record.

PM: That's a monster record. Another Brad Jones record.

WK: Yeah, yeah. A great record.

PM: Just talked with Chuck recently about that record. He's the real deal.

WK: I agree. He's just great. And the EP was just a different process than Americanitis. I had all these songs and I decided I wanted to put them all in one place, make some sort of a statement of the time, which is an awkward thing. I recently read an interview with Joe Henry and he said, "Oh, I will never write a political song. It is the most dated thing. The minute you write it it's dated." And I thought, well, but what if you just had one in your heart? And I'm not having some argument with Joe Henry. That's just one of his boundaries that he needs.

PM: That's interesting.

WK: I mean, at least he was saying so that day.

PM: Yeah. It's all so subjective. I mean, you could certainly point to a few songs of Joe's and say, "What, are you telling me that's not political?"


WK: Well, yeah, he's got the Willie Mays song, which is--and maybe he's just talking about if you write "I Ain't Marching Anymore." But I listened to that song, and it's still a great song.

PM: Absolutely. The songs of Phil Ochs hold up remarkably well 30, 40 years later.

WK: Yes.

PM: It's incredible.

WK: Well, the themes are always the same. It's not like fear mongering and misuse of young lives and profiteering ever goes away, until it someday hopefully does go away. That's why I wrote earlier, I said human beings need to evolve. I mean, we all do. I mean, good Lord.

PM: It's funny how you could take something like "human beings needing to evolve" and somebody could call it cliché, when the truth of the matter is, it's never been addressed.

WK: Right. Well. I do think it has been addressed, but--

PM: Mostly, it just gets lip service.

WK: Yes. I don't know what you can do about it. I mean, that may be ultimately the thing. You kind of look at Dylan's work now, he just kind of comments on the human condition in general because he's an astute observer of it, and he may no longer feel the need to specifically talk about things--although he still does. That's the thing. I mean, I guess I just contradicted myself. I don't wrap my head around what's going on in the world. You can do it easier now than ever before, but then you've wrapped your head so tightly.

PM: Yeah, right, you can hurt yourself.

WK: You can spend weeks on the internet finding out all the bad news--and the good news, too. The good news is that there's never been more music that in the past might have been subject to a label system that didn't let everything in. And at the same time I'm an addict of the music blog sites, where you listen to stuff like the massive amounts of Jamaican and African music that I'm just going crazy over.

PM: Yeah.

WK: And then once you go there you may never get your head back up above water.

PM: [laughs]    continue

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