WASHINGTONPOST.COM - feature interview
Mowin' Down the Roses With Jamey Johnson
Jamey Johnson's "That Lonesome Song" was the feel-bad album of 2008. And the ache, angst and anger weren't a put-on: Johnson was going through a divorce and had lost his record deal when he began working up the self-released honky-tonk set.
But since the brilliant bummer of a country album was reissued last year by Mercury Nashville, things have been looking up for the brooding singer-songwriter with the Hells Angels beard: He's been racking up accolades and acclaim (it was a no-brainer to make my own year-end Top 10), and "That Lonesome Song" recently went gold.
Johnson, who performs Thursday at the Birchmere, called from Nashville for a quick interview.
Are you waiting to go platinum before you trim that awesome neckbeard?
Aw, man -- I'm not making any deals with anybody on when I'm going to cut this beard off. I kind of like it. [Laughs.]
You're kind of the opposite of Toby Keith, who says he shaves his armpits -- among other areas I didn't really want to know about -- because he gets all sweaty onstage.
I'm not even sure I wanted to know that.
Things seem to be going exceptionally well for you lately. I guess being bummed out was great for art -- and business.
I don't consider one to have to anything to do with the other. I don't know that being bummed out is necessary for any kind of success. My next story may not be anything like this story. I just hope people start listening to country music for the song again and the storyline behind it. But I didn't enter a period of being bummed out for the money.
I was kind of thinking the other way around: That your period of being bummed out resulted in some superlative songs that people are really responding to.
If you look at it that way, it's had its benefits. But I didn't know I was making a superlative project when I stepped in the studio to do this one. I was just making a country music record. I was making a record full of songs that represented my life at that time. I fully intend to do that again the next time around. But I'm in a different place. Not just me personally, but the entire country is.
Have you started writing for your next album?
I haven't stopped yet.
As the famous bluegrass song goes: "There's a dark and a troubled side of life./There's a bright and a sunny side, too." Does one side generally speak to you more?
Not necessarily. Even a song on the radio that completely lacks substance is there for a reason. Sometimes, people need a break from cold reality; the song that you really don't have to put that much thought power into can be just as entertaining as something that might take you on a three- or four-minute cruise through the depth of reality. Hank Williams is one of the best songwriters in history. However, "Hey Good Lookin'" -- not so deep of a song. Even Hank Williams recognized that people need a break.
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