On Thursday, Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires called into the quarantined version of The Daily Show with Trevor Noah—temporarily rebranded as The Daily Social Distancing Show—from their barn in Tennessee to perform a rendition of “Only Children” from Isbell’s upcoming album, Reunions, due out on May 15th via Southeastern Records/Thirty Tigers.
— ATMOSPHERELESS ™️ (@amandashires) May 8, 2020
The song immediately takes on an air of melancholy as Shires plays along on violin with Isbell’s opening chords on the guitar. Shires continues to add to the emotion of the wistful tune throughout the song by way of tasteful violin flourishes and vocal harmonies, and lines like “Heaven’s wasted on the dead, that’s what your mama said” affirm Isbell’s stature as one of music’s great storytellers.
Watch Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires perform “Only Children” on The Daily Social Distancing Show with Trevor Noah below:
Jason Isbell & Amanda Shires – “Only Children” – The Daily Social Distancing Show with Trevor Noah
[Video: The Daily Show with Trevor Noah]
In addition to the “Only Children” performance, Isbell stuck around to chat with Trevor about Reunions and the ongoing impact of COVID-19 on the music industry.
Speaking about the immense impact this crisis is having on the music industry, Isbell explained, “Nobody knows what’s gonna happen and we all, I think, have come to the consensus that it’s gonna be bad. For me, when I’m in the bubble of my home with my family, I can still create. That’s something that… as long as I have my life, I can still find a way to make music. I don’t think that’s dispensible in any way. But as far as making a living making music, it’s gonna be a lot harder for people who were living show-to-show or paycheck-to-paycheck.”
Isbell continued, “It’s already changed. We don’t sell as many copies of albums as we used to, so we’ve had to shift our thinking a little bit. I feel very lucky because I’d gotten to a point where I’ve got a bit of a safety net. That’s not going to hold up forever, but had it been ten years ago when I was still riding around in a van playing for a couple hundred people a night, you know, I would have to start re-thinking career choices and making some hard decisions.”
“You know, It’s tough. It’s tough because it is dispensible,” Isbell reflected. “You can’t eat a rock ‘n’ roll record. I mean, you can, and I’ve probably tried at some point, but it’s not gonna help you, so it’s tough for us. But the thing I try to focus on is, I can still make music, and the original reason I started making music was not to make a living. So, whatever happens, I’m going to be able to help myself be in the world by making music. And I rely on that right now more than I have since I was 15 years old and locked in my bedroom with nowhere to go.”
When asked about how he is channeling this period of isolation in his music, Isbell noted, “Well, I got lucky because I have made a career out of writing lonely folk songs, basically. And so now, it’s perfect! I just keep doing what I’m doing. I’ve already been writing about sitting alone in my room, not being able to touch anyone… It just slides right in there for me.”
After Isbell explained how his writing process always incorporates a reflection period, predicted that he may start writing about this whole experience a year from now, and discussed the mental hurdles he had to clear to write the material on Reunions, Noah asked Isbell his thoughts on the re-opening of Tennessee, one of the first states to attempt a return to normalcy.
Isbell offered a theory about the people who are rushing to get back out into the real world: “Okay, I have a theory about a lot of the folks that are going out and just jumping back into their normal life, or whatever version of it is available to them right now. I think a lot of people … they see the same things pretty much every day. They go to the same jobs, they see the same people, and some people love that. Some people hate it. For me, it was never really an option, I couldn’t stand that idea, so I spent my life traveling, trying to experience as many new things as possible.”
“So, when I see something that I’ve never seen before, I recognize it as something that I’ve never seen before and I try to act accordingly,” Isbell continued. “If that’s extra dangerous, then I think, ‘Okay, I’ve not seen this, I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen. And if it’s exciting or exhilarating, then I think, ‘I need to enjoy this to the fullest, because I’ve never seen it before and I might not see it again.’ I think a lot of folks make the mistake of thinking that they have seen this before because they don’t have a lot of experience with something they have never seen before. They’re not in practice of experiencing new things. And that scares me.”
“I’m not going out, man. If I have to do something, I’ll go do it, but I would rather be thoughtful to the people that I care about,” he explained. “I lost a friend of the family, John Prine, he passed away a couple weeks ago from COVID-19. That broke our hearts … If he’s the only person that this virus took, that would’ve been enough for me to stay in the house as long as I needed to stay in the house, if it was just John. But everybody knows somebody—and if you don’t, you will—so for me, it’s not worth it to go out there and risk it.”
Watch the full Jason Isbell episode of The Daily Social Distancing Show with Trevor Noah via the Comedy Central website here.