The first couple of alt-Americana Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires will serve as co-ambassadors for Record Store Day 2023. In accordance with their duties as ambassadors of all things vinyl, the husband and wife team will share their first-ever joint release, The Sound Emporium EP, as a Record Store Day exclusive on April 22nd.
“Hell yeah, they did it right, picking me,” Shires told Variety by phone in a new interview. In addition to serving as co-ambassadors, another thing that sets Isbell and Shires apart in the pantheon of former RSD reps like Taylor Swift, Brandi Carlile, Run The Jewels, and Metallica is that the singer-songwriters both worked at independent record stores. Isbell readily admits, “I was terrible at it,” while Shires’ tenure working at Ralph’s Records in Lubbock, TX (which still stands) was transformative and introduced her to the music of Leonard Cohen, among many others.
“Working at Ralph’s Records was great, but I had this guy that worked with me that played Fugazi nonstop,” Shires said in the joint Variety phone call with Isbell .”One day I’d had enough and he was like, ‘It’s come to the end of the record.’ I was like, yes, I know, thank God. He was like, ‘It’s your turn, I guess.’ And I reached for the quickest thing I could find, and it was that Songs of Love and Hate record with Leonard Cohen, and I’d never heard it before. And that is when I fell in love with Leonard Cohen. So I owe my entire existence to that day in the record store.”
“If it hadn’t been for Fugazi,” Isbell chimed in, “you never would’ve found Leonard Cohen [Laughter].”
To celebrate their ambassadorship, Isbell and Shires cut the four-song The Sound Emporium EP. Though Shires occasionally plays fiddle in Isbell’s backing band the 400 Unit when she’s not out making her own music—including her acclaimed 2022 disc Take It Like A Man, which features Jason on guitar throughout—this will mark the first time both their names appear side-by-side on the spine of a record.
The EP features one previously unreleased song from each artist, with Isbell offering “Hired Gun” and Shires contributing “Old Habits”. The collection also includes a re-recorded acoustic version of “Tour of Duty”—taken from Jason Isbell And The 400 Unit’s 2011 LP Here We Rest—which also hosts 400 Unit guitarist Sadler Vaden. Lastly, The Sound Emporium contains a cover of Richard Thompson‘s “Beeswing”, which holds special significance to the couple.
“‘Beeswing’ is hard to play, as Richard Thompson songs are,” Isbell said, with Shires recalling, “Early on in our dating, Jason was trying to impress me by learning it.”
“I put it up on YouTube and she’s the only person I gave the link to,” Isbell confessed. “So somewhere still, lost in the catacombs of YouTube, is a video of me playing that 12 or 13 years ago.”
Working in a record store also afforded Shires the opportunity to amass a substantial vinyl collection, which she ultimately sold off to move to Nashville “to pursue my dreams of becoming a waitress.” Now with the vinyl boom in full swing and their 7-year-old daughter Mercy giving wax a spin, Shires is starting to build up her stash once again.
“It’s discovery,” Shires said of the record store experience. “It’s that sense of not everything is learned or known, and you find it in some kind of magical way. Predetermined determination, I guess.”
Check out the full Variety interview with Record Store Day ambassadors Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires and stay tuned for a full list of RSD releases. Watch Isbell and Shires announce their ambassadorship, and find out what Jason’s first album was, in the video below.