Long before he moved to L.A., Christopher Lockett remembers reading, “If you can learn to be alone, especially in Los Angeles, you will be just fine.” It was his first indication that this was the right place for him:
“Yep,” he said, “good on that front. Most songwriters are, I think, fine with that. As someone pointed out, there is an existential lonesomeness to many of my songs. That, to anyone who has ever lived in a rural area, is one of America’s defining characteristics, I believe. Certainly, it is for me. The wide, open spaces of the American West have gotten into my songs over the years.”
Now comes a new album of originals, Between The Dark And The Light, on Gritbiscuit Records. It’s the follow-up to the acclaimed Road Songs for the Restless, his previous collection of songs, which led American Songwriter to call him “a substantial and soulful songwriter of the highest degree, and a deeply emotive singer.”
That review concluded with the statement, “Mr. Lockett is making deeply satisfying music, the kind that keeps you going even through the toughest of times.”
Now comes times even tougher than the toughest we’ve known, and fortunately Mr. Lockett has a new album perfectly in tune with this moment. The Dark and The Light is the name of this, his third studio album. Because his day-job is as a cinematographer-photographer-director, he’s a guy who knows more than most about the interplay of light and darkness.
To herald his new album, American Songwriter is happy to premiere this video for his song “Jacarandas,” which he both directed and shot himself. It features veteran character actors like Helen Siff, who you might recognize from famous films such as Don’t Mess with The Zohan, The Karate Kid and Hail Caesar!).
Opting to shoot a narrative short film instead of a performance video, Lockett, more comfortable behind a camera than in front of one, has a cameo role as a mailman.
“It’s my nod to John Prine, poet Gregory Corso, and Charles Mingus,” he said. “Even the greats had day jobs.”
Lockett’s day job has taken him around the world, shooting television shows and documentaries. His most recent film, Until They’re Gone, is a documentary about people digging up landmines in Cambodia available now on Amazon Prime, Google Play, and Vudu.
“My buddy Walter Vital was with me shooting in minefields,” said Lockett. “He shot my mailman scenes in this video. Compared to the minefields, it was a considerably mellower gig.”
The album was recorded in “four sweaty days” during a brutal heat wave in the summer of 2018. Working with producer Fernando Perdomo out of his Reseda Ranch Studios, the album features many great musicians, including, Trevi Fligg on backing vocals and violinist Kaitlin Wolfberg on “Jacarandas.”
Also, on the album are Joel Martin on pedal steel, as well as Claire Holley and Kitten Kuroi on backing vocals. Kuroi was available at the time, Lockett learned, because her boss, Elvis Costello, was recuperating from surgery.
Lockett feels fortunate to have completed the album at all. Initially released with a show at Hotel Cafe in Hollywood, he went into the hospital the next day, felled by the flu, and a mystery bacterium likely picked up shooting in a distant jungle. Fortunately, his recovery was complete, but took many months, and erased all plans of touring.
But in December 2019, with much improved health, and with Kuroi fresh off another Costello tour, Lockett, Perdomo, and the band started over. “We re-released the album. 364 days later,” he said, “same venue, same time slot. I thought it deserved a second chance.”
All his albums can be found at the usual streaming sites, and CD Baby. He plays out regularly in Los Angeles. He also created the Live at Lockett living room concert series, featuring more than 160 videos of Angeleno songwriters, roots musicians and poets, all performing in his living room. Unlike most of what one sees of music online, his series sings of elegance and real-time reverence for music and the musicians who make it. One camera, one lens, no zooms, no cuts, a lone shotgun microphone overhead out of frame, and nothing between the performer and the audience. Nothing but what’s essential. That’s on YouTube and Facebook.
Asked about the subject of this song, he said, “Jacarandas flourish in Los Angeles. They are beautiful, flowering trees native to South America that burst forth in purple, blue, and lavender blooms in late May and early June, and have a second bloom again in autumn. They’re not in bloom very long, only a few weeks, but they are spectacular, a powerful visual impact on the landscape.”
“The jacarandas,” he continued, “signify life’s ephemeral nature. Mortality is a given, but there is much beauty on the way, and life is more interesting when you pay attention. Jacarandas also remind me of wisteria, a similarly purple flowering vine that grew wild where I grew up. All of that is in the song, including the part about moving out west to catch the last of that late sunlight, and wanting people to remember me and sing my songs someday.”
“Trevi Fligg, who sings backing vocals on this and my previous album, just had a baby. Life goes on. People carry songs with them, we hope. One of many reasons we write them, no?”
Asked why he chose this song for the video, he said, “Mainly because I had the resources to do it at the level of craftsmanship it deserved. I shot both characters, and the mailman scenes, at my home. I had the gear and the experience to shoot it, and I knew my friend Walter could shoot my scenes. I owned the typewriter already, sketched out the story, marshalled my resources, kept the budget low, and used as much natural light as I could; although every scene you see has lights working in it, it’s lit to look like natural light, as that fits the story.”
“I’ve seen a few too many videos featuring someone in denim walking around Joshua Tree lip-synching their song. I wanted to do something different with this one. I hadn’t shot a narrative short film in a while, so took that path. It’s a little more of a challenge, perhaps, but I’m happy with the story the video tells.
This is a reprint of American Songwriter’s 2012 review of his previous album, Road Songs for the Restless:
Road Songs for the Restless
He writes songs like a much older man, like a songwriter weathered and wearied by the musical life, but with an ample amount of remaining soul. “Heart broke, Drunk and Restless” starts this party, and it’s a powerful opener. Powered by great organ playing against a driving groove, Lockett sings from his heart about the multitudes of experience that all exist within one iconic Golden State, California. “I got a love as big as California, I can’t deny it,” he sings. Sounds like his heart is about that big. “
His lyrics resound with the earthy grace of Merle Haggard, who he tips his hat to in the first song. “Cold Night for A Suicide Girl” evokes some miracle collaboration between Hank Williams and Marilyn Manson. As haunting as a 3 am truck stop with a full moon above, this is grim Americana, the dark side of the heartland.
“When This Old Car Was New” is a perfect song: beautiful with an earthy, gutsy beauty, and Lockett’s voice deepening into rich Tom Rush bass pedal tones, and an absolutely gorgeous and essential chorus, “We are still in the summer of our lives.”
He’s a country songwriter swimming against the prevalent Nashville current of pop country to return to the deep waters of songwriters like Townes Van Zandt and Steve Earle. “Mbira Mboogie” is a remarkable and unexpectedly spirited instrumental of that rings exotically, like a marimba in a pawnshop, displaying his multi-instrumental chops, as do a few other intermingled instrumental excursions, such as “A Road Back Home” and “Heart Like A Train,” a great title for him as his heart seems locomotive in its range.
“Nobody’s ever made a dime singing any song of mine,” he sings, “but if you don’t mind I’ll keep trying.” We don’t mind at all; he’s writing the kinds of songs a whole lot of singers could sink their teeth into. A substantial and soulful songwriter of the highest degree, and a deeply emotive singer, Mr. Lockett is making deeply satisfying music, the kind of music that keeps you going even through the toughest of times.
American Songwriter, 2012.