On a recent episode of the Rolling Stone Music Now Podcast, singer-songwriter Jason Isbell discussed a wide array of topics, from his new album Reunions, to his friendship with David Crosby, to what his life would be like if he were around in the 1970s.
As host Brian Hiatt moved track-by-track through Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit‘s upcoming album Reunions, due out May 15th, they talked about the yet-to-be-released song “It Gets Easier”. The track tells the autobiographical tale of Isbell’s own battle with substance abuse, but through a less conventional lens than the typical “you cleaned up, found Jesus” plotline.
I’m always looking for ways to come at subject matter that haven’t been explored before. People will write a lot about the first stages of love or recovery or life-changing events. You write about the funeral; you don’t write about 30 years later, when Dad’s been gone.
I’ve been sober for eight years, and the fact of it is, you still wish that you had that crutch sometimes.… I do still have those “slip dreams,” as David Crosby calls them, where I’ll dream that I just had a drink. And I’m like, “What the hell did I just do?”
This led into a discussion of Isbell’s budding friendship with iconic singer-songwriter David Crosby, who is featured on Reunions. The two kept up a cute back-and-forth on Twitter some months back, teasing a collaborative studio effort and showing off an enviable friendship.
David is like your granddad, if your granddad was really stoned all the time. He’ll call at one o’clock in the morning and he’s really high and he wants to tell you about an idea, and they’re usually good ideas. His voice is still so powerful, and that surprised me because he’s not always taken the best care of himself. I asked him, “How are you still able to sing like that?” He said, “I tried everything I could to kill it, but it just won’t die.”
As the topic of “Letting You Go”, another unreleased song from the album, came up, Hiatt bluntly asked Isbell if he enjoyed making people cry with his music. Isbell has certainly shown a penchant for it throughout his career, as Hiatt notes, with songs like “Elephant”, “If We Were Vampires”, or just all of 2013’s Southeastern.
Well, that or making them laugh — if you make somebody make some type of noise unintentionally, you’re doing a pretty good job as a songwriter. But there’s something about the sad songs where it’s not just sad, there’s a resilience, and I think that’s what really affects people. When you’re painting a picture of people who insist on pushing through and surviving, that’s where people really get moved, because that is at the heart of the human experience.
By far one of the best quotes of the whole interview comes when Isbell discusses when he met Bruce Springsteen. Isbell was incredibly humbled when Springsteen picked up a guitar and started singing “Traveling Along” from Southeastern, while still maintaining his trademark Springsteen voice. Isbell went on to wax philosophically about the good ole’ days “when it was possible for people to write those kind of songs and sell millions of records and sell out arenas.” When Hiatt asked if Isbell yearned for those days, he responded simply and honestly,
If I’d come along in the Seventies, I probably would have been a much bigger star, and I would’ve had a lot more money. And I would be dead. It would not have turned out well. I mean, more is not always better.
The entire interview is available to stream via the Rolling Stone Music Now Podcast below, or you can read excerpts of the interview here.
Rolling Stone Music Now Podcast – “A Conversation With Jason Isbell”
[H/T Rolling Stone]