Singer-songwriter and multi-instrumental artist, Tennessee Jet shares “Stray Dogs” from his new album. The lead single releases tomorrow, but is premiering exclusively on American Songwriter today. It is a narrative-track for the emerging artist, who has set out to redefine his ideas of country music on the west coast. Penned almost entirely on his own, and recorded with Dwight Yoakam’s band in California, Tennessee Jet clarified that his third album, The Country, is what he referred to as “my type of country.”
Raised on the twang of outlaw artists like Waylon and Willie by two rodeoing parents, TJ arrived in California a few years ago as a traditional country guy. “Everything that I had done up to that point was waving the flag of ultra-traditional country. When I moved to California, I realized that, even if I did that thing perfectly, I was probably going to be a poor man’s Merle Haggard. I was like I’ve got to find something to discover on my own,” he recalled of his transplant experience.
This revelation led TJ to discard his previously held notions of himself as a musician. In doing so, he dove into the works of Bob Dylan and others, whose craft felt most distant from his songwriting. What he learned during this time allowed his work to come full circle, applying the old to new experiences and creating something original.
“Stray Dogs” details this cross-sectional experiment. “This is probably the most autobiographical song on the record,” TJ shared. “Half of it was written in the studio on the day of recording. I always like to have at least a few songs that feel like they are as new as they could possibly be on a record. They capture that initial inspiration. The pressure of having to finish something right there in front of everybody, it motivates me. So it’s always fun to put yourself in that position where your back’s against the wall, and you’ve got to create. It eliminates the judgemental part of your brain.”
With no pre-production work, the song is raw. Only some banjo was added later for the travel feel the picking induces. Beyond that, the song cuts to the core of TJ’s pilgrimage to California. Rather than building a career around emulating the work of prior “greats,” the artist embraced a sound that is uniquely his own by constantly purging previous work. “Stray Dogs” is at the center of this revisionist approach he took with his upcoming third album, The Country.
“All of my heroes in music have always pushed the envelope. They’ve always taken something and honored it while making it new and more unique to them,” TJ expressed about the record’s influence. “I want to do more than make songs to put out there for people to consume and discard. I really want to make lasting true art. That’s what this record is. I’m trying to challenge people’s ideas of what country music and folk music is and express myself through that.”
“Stray Dogs” is the first of many singles Tennessee Jet plans to share on the road to his record release this fall. Given the global context and the diversity of this upcoming collection, he felt that this approach would give his potential audience multiple chances to get on board.
“It seems like the fans of Americana artists,” he shared, “are willing to dig a little bit deeper and see what the messages are in the songs. As opposed to something that might make them just want to get out and dance, that’s cool too.”
Though the virus has hindered album plans and kept the artist from his troubadour style of touring, he feels there is much to be gained.
“We’re pretty optimistic,” he admitted of the mid-pandemic release plans. “I think that every time something is considered bad, there are opportunities as well. And maybe people will be a bit more open to listening to more songs than if there were so many other things vying for their attention.”
Listen to “Stray Dogs” from Tennessee Jet below. Follow along for more genre-bending tracks the artist plans to share between now and the release of The Country on September 4 via Thirty Tigers.