You tweeted your questions to Jason Isbell of Drive-By Truckers and The 400 Unit fame, and we’ve collected his answers for you. Dig in.
AmerSongwriter: How did you get started in this industry? (@mallorygrooms)
JasonIsbell: Well, the first real gig I ever had was with DBT in ’01. I signed a pub. deal that month, too. They asked me to go on the road with them just after I finished college at Memphis.
AmerSongwriter: Being the gifted songwriter you are, do you also attempt prose and/or poetry?(@MaddieHope)
JasonIsbell: I write in other forms a lot, but it’s never been something I’ve felt comfy letting out of the box. There are already so many good poets and novelists out there. I wouldn’t want to add to the glut of bad ones.
AmerSongwriter: What are some of your favorite joints to eat/grab a drink/shoot pool at before a show?( @Gameneer)
JasonIsbell: I love Chris’s Billiards in Chi. Brass Rail(?) in Madison. Soho Bill. in NYC. For food, The Grit in Athens, Huey’s, Vortex. I’ll go just about anywhere to avoid another hotel room, though.
AmerSongwriter: What are the origins behind “Brand New Kind of Actress” (@Suchatreat)
JasonIsbell: That one’s about Phil Spector and his troubles. Might explain itself if you know that.
AmerSongwriter: @JasonIsbell So, Jason. Process: Melody, chords, lyrics? chords, melody, lyrics? Melody, lyrics, chords? (@JosephLemay)
JasonIsbell: I’ll take 1 however I can get 1, but it usually starts with melody for me. Sometimes a lyric just pops out… Sometimes the story comes first. Those can be the hardest to wrangle.
AmerSongwriter: @JasonIsbell Keep it simple – in 25 words or less, what advice would you give to a fledgling songwriter? (cjskinner)
JasonIsbell: Persistence is key.Listen a lot. Read a lot. Write a lot. Most songs might never be heard, but they’re tools.
AmerSongwriter: @JasonIsbell After writing so many songs in your career, does it get harder, or easier to write new ones? (@EvanSchlansky)
JasonIsbell: It gets harder to write songs, but easier to write good ones. My tastes keep refining, so I have to allow myself to write… It’s easier to kill an idea that might turn out to be good. I have to lighten up. Remember a Neil Young quote… “People don’t want to hear a song you like. They want to hear a song you wrote.”
AmerSongwriter: For a man who writes abt feelings, what’s it like to re-live thoughts every time u sing them? (@Staticgrooms)
JasonIsbell: Sometimes it’s tough, but it’s supposed to be. If I wrote about things that didn’t really matter, I’d get tired of singing… And I’d probably just be a guitar player for somebody else. I still love that when the opportunity comes up.