Don’t let the title of his new album fool you — Tim Easton is a pretty cool guy. The veteran singer-songwriter’s new record, Not Cool, is his first release as a resident of Nashville, following his recent exodus from Joshua Tree, California.
The album represents his skilled take on American music, and blends deeply-felt influences like Keith Richards, Doc Watson and Elmore James. We asked Easton about creating Not Cool, which spilled out of a five-day session with producers Robin Eaton and Brad Jones; Easton says it’s the most fun he’s ever had in the recording studio. Stream Not Cool below, then pick it up on 8/20 when it hits stores.
What made you move to Nashville from Joshua Tree?
It was simply time for a change, and I had flirted with living in Nashville many times, having made four albums there prior to Not Cool. Joshua Tree will always have a very important meaning to me. It is also unfortunately close enough to the 29 Palms Marine base that when they rehearse for war by exploding bombs on mock villages, you can hear it. Sometimes it rattles the windows. It makes me sick to my stomach to think about having to explain “bombing” to children. I’m naive like that. After Ellington (my daughter) was born, we quickly returned East to be closer to more family and rivers and mountains that are smoky. There was a journey made to seek out a new home and we stopped in Upstate NY, Ohio, and then Tennessee. Everyone knows about Nashville’s current boomtown status, but the town really is incredible in so many ways that by the time I answer these questions, several more people will have decided to move there. Food, music, art, film, writing — it’s going on all around you and the inspiration to do good work is part of the ethos there. It’s also much easier city to tour from. Nashville’s proximity to multiple great performance markets is historic.
How would you describe the new album?
It’s my take on American music as comprehended by me at this moment in my life. My Mom did bring home great old records from the library in Akron and I’ve always pretty much been an acoustic guitar player, but I wanted to explore my fascination with early rock and country blues while still maintaining a current sound. For the sessions I mostly stuck with acoustic guitar, but I used an old Kay beater that was run through a little Gretch amp to get that Saturday night fish fry kind of sound. Then I worked with people that I knew could perform the job well, without much fuss. People I could trust to deliver the goods. I’d say I let my roots flag fly harder on this one than anything I’ve done before, and for that reason alone I love it more than anything I’ve ever done-aside from a collection of covers my wife and I recorded in one day under the name TOUGH SAILORS. This album winds and weaves through some country blues tunes but also there is a slight time machine at work that should keep you on your toes. There are enough musical curve balls which I hope keep it interesting for the listener. Not Cool is the fifth album I’ve made in Nashville, but the first one I’ve made since moving to Nashville. I didn’t mince words on this album. This is my country music. This is my Rock and Roll. This is my singer-songwriter at work.
What’s the story behind the album title?
It’s really just a phrase you hear people say all the time. The song or the lyrics of Not Cool say it all. The cover art and concept was mine but the design was actually done by Cory Hutchinson. It was he who made the title fit the cover image so well. That is me on the front, but it’s not a Prom date photo like some people are saying. It was the homecoming dance at my high school back in Akron, and I am escorting the Queen-but I have a black eye, and the story shall remain open to interpretation from there. Let your imagination take over. I enjoy how the image and the title work together with the songs, causing people to make up their own story. Like anything else, Not Cool is about relationships, and how you learn from them or continue to stumble.
Why was this such a fun record to make?
I have made a few so of course I have participated on sessions that were pure joy and the other kind which Tom Waits alluded to when he said recording is either really easy or impossible. I picked the players that I knew would have no problem whatsoever leaning into these songs with everything they had. I was determined to nail it and also to have a blast while doing it. When you track 6 songs on your first day, you’ve already had the kind of day that dictates what kind of album this is going to be.
Nashville guitar hero JD Simo is on here – how did you discover him?
I was standing in the alley between the Ryman Auditorium and Robert’s on the night of the AMA awards, congratulating Jason Isbell, who had just won song of the year for “Alabama Pines,” when I ducked into Robert’s to catch that night’s players. It’s just something I do every time I’m in that neighborhood. I feel lucky to have danced to B4-549 sets there in the late 90’s on previous trips through Nashville. Ever since that time, most musicians know that Robert’s is the place to go to for some of the best music in town. JD Simo was on guitar that night and he used electricity in a way I hadn’t heard in a while. Joe Fick was doing things to the bass I had never seen or heard before. I took note of the way they worked together and decided to ask them both to help me get it rolling. And in case you are wondering what it means to be a professional, working musician in this town, both JD Simo and Joe Fick were at the studio at 9 a.m. on day one of the sessions, ready for a 10 a.m. downbeat. Tuck that thought into your work ethic and smoke it.
Tell us about the song “Crazy Motherfucker from Shelby, Ohio” — great song title.
Gladly. That’s the only tune on the album I did not write! It was written by J.P. Olsen, who is also a documentary filmmaker (“Narcotic Farm”). He is certainly one of the best songwriters on the planet, but you won’t find his incredible collection of songs on iTunes just yet. Think Randy Newman’s story telling and character creating capabilities combined with melodic instruction from some place between the band Television and Hank Williams — with a dash of Hoagy Carmichael. He is an American original. There are none like him that I know. It is my dream that somebody give this great song the proper Black Metal treatment it deserves. A few band’s from the Buckeye State gave it a shot. I went rockabilly with it because I figure I would leave the metal to the dudes who can carry it off. Trent Reznor: he’s the Ohioan who I think should take this one to the top. Maybe Butch Walker could tame it. He’s not from Ohio, but he could shred a song like this into the living rooms of America. When I’m on the road with Nashville newcomer Megan Palmer, we play it Dave and Gill style.