Any Mississippian will tell you: Blue Mountain pioneered the 1990s alt-country movement as much as the Jayhawks or Uncle Tupelo. When it broke up soon after the turn of the millennium, the band-best known for thrilling and combustible live sets and the adventurous sing-along “Blue Canoe”-left legions of passionate fans in its wake. Today those enthusiasts eagerly anticipate the July 22 release of the newly reunited Blue Mountain’s Midnight in Mississippi, its first album of originals since 1999’s Tales of a Traveler.Any Mississippian will tell you: Blue Mountain pioneered the 1990s alt-country movement as much as the Jayhawks or Uncle Tupelo. When it broke up soon after the turn of the millennium, the band-best known for thrilling and combustible live sets and the adventurous sing-along “Blue Canoe”-left legions of passionate fans in its wake. Today those enthusiasts eagerly anticipate the July 22 release of the newly reunited Blue Mountain’s Midnight in Mississippi, its first album of originals since 1999’s Tales of a Traveler. Singer-songwriter-guitarist Cary Hudson talks to American Songwriter about reviving the unpretentious little band that could.
After almost decade away from Blue Mountain and embarking on your own successful solo career, why reunite the band? Was it easy to slip back into that comfort zone again?
Cary Hudson: Being back with Blue Mountain has been great. We needed a break from it, as anybody who spends 10 years of touring together would. When we got back together last year we started rehearsing and it felt really good, and we started to think about keeping it going. And then we started getting requests for more shows, and writing new songs, and after I met Stuart Sikes through my manager Carrie Garcia, it just made sense to work on a new record.
Playing the new songs has to feel good. Tell me the story behind the title track to the new album Midnight in Mississippi.
Well, let’s just say that I’ve been to all those places, and that all the characters in the song are fictional! The song was influenced by my friend Larry Brown’s writing. He’s credited as one of the fathers of “Grit Lit,” fiction that is set in the South and features realistic and often violent episodes with lots of dark humor.
One of my other favorites is “70’s Song.” You sing about a woman as “sexy as Stevie Nicks in 1976.” Who could possibly be?
[Stevie] really personified a mysterious beauty that a Jungian would term “the Anima” for me. I remember watching television as a kid when Fleetwood Mac were accepting their Grammys for Rumours, and seeing concert footage of “Rhiannon” and being blown away by her glamour and hotness! Uh, what was the question?
Right. Lots of the new songs read like slice-of-life vignettes. Describe how your songwriting process has changed over the years.
My writing has changed lot over the years. When I first started it was usually based around a guitar riff, and the words were built around that. That still happens, but nowadays it’s more likely to be built around a phrase that I overheard someone say, or an image from a daydream that I could translate into words. I keep a notebook with me most of the time that I use to jot down images and phrases, and then those become the raw material that I work with when it’s time to sit down and put a song together. Occasionally I will get the phrase and then sit down and write the song in one sitting, and other times it’s more a matter of lots of free writing and editing. Another way that it’s changed is that I tend to focus less on a “confessional” style of writing and try to write more as a fiction writer would, even if the themes and settings are rooted in personal experience.
How does living in the South influence your songwriting?
The South, and more specifically the area between Memphis and New Orleans, is the setting for almost all my songs. At this point I’ve traveled quite a lot, but I don’t really know anywhere else well enough to have an emotional connection.
Last time we talked, you told me about some of the damage that Hurricane Katrina caused in and around Hattiesburg. How are things in the area now?
Thanks for asking about Hattiesburg. It’s recovered from Katrina quite fine, and as it wasn’t as damaged as the Gulf Coast and New Orleans, it has actually grown and prospered from an influx of folks from those areas. I was in the Bywater neighborhood of NOLA this afternoon and was glad to see that it is making progress and the spirit of the city seemed upbeat.
I was just listening to “Gentle Soul,” and the guitar work reminded me that Gibson recently named you as one of the Top 10 alt-country guitarists. What does that mean to you, and do you consider yourself a guitarist or songwriter first-or are the two things just part of the same package?
I started out wanting to be a guitar hero, and in my middle twenties started to write my first songs. I’m still completely fascinated by the guitar, and I can’t imagine that I will ever stop being a student and fan of the instrument-it’s portable, re-tuneable, you can bend the strings, or use a slide, and it’s shaped like a woman’s body. What else do you want?
The big question: After you’ve finished touring behind the new albums, is there a future for Blue Mountain?
We really don’t have a plan for the future of the band after touring the records. We’re just hoping to have the opportunity to keep doing it as long as it’s fun and rewarding.