“That Train,” Mac Leaphart’s latest single from his forthcoming album Music City Joke, premieres today in a clever bundling of nostalgic allusions and raw honky-tonk harmonies. The new tune follows his debut single, “Blame on the Bottle,” and continues Leaphart’s success as a story-based songwriter. Recently, Leaphart unraveled his creative process in an exclusive correspondence with American Songwriter.
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“The first thing that came to me was the end/coda: ‘Still ain’t caught that train,’” Leaphart said. “The story of the song started while washing clothes at the laundromat, and kind of around the idea that as much of a chore as taking clothes to the laundromat was, I could sense that there would be a time in my life where I would look back endearingly on the freedom I had when going to the laundromat was one of the few responsibilities I had.”
This inspiration, found in the seemingly mundane task of washing clothes, transforms the unremarkable into the remarkable. “That Train” captures the subtle beauty found within daily tasks. Especially in an era when life teeters a little more precariously, “That Train” offers listeners refuge in the familiar.
The song itself communicates comfort through Leaphart’s unique twang. “I wanted the story to start at the laundromat, but I didn’t want to write the song in a way that felt too literal,” Leaphart explains. “Essentially, I wanted the listener to see a laundromat without me actually saying the word ‘laundromat.’ So, I scratched around on a legal pad until I stumbled on ‘T-shirts & faded denim, tumbling round & round’ and from there the song started feeling right.”
The chorus of “That Train,” however, required some backup. Leaphart co-wrote the song with Aaron Raitiere, who created the chorus “in about two minutes” after a day-long writing session. Later, Leaphart crafted the verses and the song became fully formed.
“The first way I played it was a melodic fingerpicking thing—almost alt rock-ish, and sort of pretty sounding. That wasn’t jiving with me. It just felt like it wanted to have some grease on it,” Leaphart says. “So I pulled out my harmonicas and came up with the harp part and the song started feeling more natural, and playable.
“In the past, I think I’ve sometimes focused more on lyrics than the actual music in a song,” he continued. “On this record, I worked really hard to frame the songs sonically so they’d be more complete and connect more deeply with the listeners.”
And finally, at the end of the day, all Leaphart wants you to take away from “That Train” is that “right now is the best part of living.”
In addition to “That Train,” Music City Joke, is out on February 12. “I’m really excited about hitting the road,” added Leaphart. “And playing these new songs live.”