Dirt Reynolds unintentionally wrote a concept album. After looking at the encapsulated piece of work he realized the songs all dealt with a similar theme-the south, the good and the ugly and what it really means to be a part of it.
Scalawag is set to arrive digitally on June 26, followed by a vinyl release on August 28. The album was produced by frontman Chris Watts, the man behind the Dirt Reynolds name and Joseph Lekkas at Greenland Studio in Nashville and most of the music was completed by Watts and Lekkas before the band lineup was even completed. Watts expressed that this kind of writing is just a stepping stone and that the whole point of putting a lineup together was to have the classic band experience of jamming, practicing and writing collectively. But navigating through the trenches of Nashville’s dense music scene and professional culture caused somewhat of a detour for what would be deemed a passion project.
“I almost finished recording before putting the band together,” Watts told American Songwriter. “I wanted a band the whole time, but in Nashville there’s so many people that do the hired gun thing and I wanted to get away from that. I felt like there was a lack of actual bands. I wanted a band of people that would jam and rehearse and write collectively and make music together.”
“I was like-well who in Nashville is going to want to just be in my band?” he said. “Most people in Nashville do it for a living and have their plates full or are like ‘hey what’s the gig? How much does it pay?’ So, I was apprehensive at first, but something clicked and I knew I could make it happen and I needed to just do it. My rules were to just play with people who want to play with me. So, the band happened pretty quick and I was able to get them in on the record towards the end.”
The record drafts perspectives from all angles of what it’s like being a southerner and dealing with outsiders, but also analyzing just how much truth is behind what the south perpetuates to others and to itself.
“Lee County” the single from the record, out today is an example of Watts’ adept and authentic writing style with his ability to illustrate a story within a story. At first listen, it seems like a simple song about a small-town gal from the south that finds herself on the down-and-out repeatedly, but Watts actually conceptualized that female character to represent a different story than what comes across in the song.
“In 2015 my wife had cancer and I wanted to write a song for her that was empowering,” Watts said about the single. “I didn’t want to write a cancer song, because it’s been done already and well. I wanted to write something for her about resilience and the hook ‘she looks good for the hell that she’s been through’ was for my wife about the cancer. Then I developed a female character to work into the verses about a woman who had lived in a small town, who had been shit on her whole life, but she’s still hanging in there.”
The small-town girl archetype is just one of many that Watts uses to address stereotypes and southern identity. A native of Louisiana and resident of Nashville, his connection to the south runs deep. Living in different southern regions all his life, he saw first-hand the weight and actuality of stereotypes.
“A lot of the record deals with the whole paradox of the south and the conflicting nuances and how to navigate being a southerner in 21st century,” Watts explained. “What it means and how we deal with stereotypes from outsiders- but also how we confront them from within.”
In addition to addressing stereotypes head on Watts shared how his personal experiences with conflict have shaped his songwriting. He firmly believes the power of songwriting aligns with the individual experience with said events. To write a song- a good one anyways- it helps to have experienced what you’re writing about.
“Experiencing conflict and being able to overcome and use those things as a sort of lesson and recognizing where you went wrong, I think gives you more insight into the human condition than not and I think that makes you a better songwriter,” Watts said “If anything, you develop more empathy which is the ultimate key to being a better artist in general. We empathize, we feel and we want other people to feel and be able to share those experiences. Good songs should speak universal truths about the human condition and if you haven’t experienced those things it’s harder to convey effectively.”
Spending a lot of time as a for-hire player, Watts is excited to use his established songwriting style and his experiences with conflict to create something even better within the confines of a traditional band setting. Songwriting has always been the pull for him and the reason he moved to Nashville. He is always seeking ways to evolve as a songwriter and doing that with a band who have equal experience and talent is the only way to go for Watts.
“I definitely want to write collectively with the band. I want to use this project as a way to say yes to everything or at least explore it,” Watts said. “Our next goal is definitely to tour off the record. We want to just come out of the gates swinging.”