Stephen King is a master at creating characters, but when Shooter Jennings came calling, the best-selling author decided to become one, playing a central figure in the musician's upcoming concept album, "Black Ribbons."
King is the voice of Will o' the Wisp, a radio talk-show host being phased out due to government censorship. He spends his last hour on the air delivering a diatribe about the decline of America, and playing the music of an important band -- which happens to be Jennings' new band, Hierophant.
Jennings and King had never met (and still haven't). But Jennings knew that King was a fan, and figured he would be the perfect narrator for his musical tale, which paints a doomsday future of America if it continues on the warped path painted by Will O' The Wisp.
"Once the idea of using him popped in my head, it kind of stayed and never varied," Jennings said.
The two exchanged ideas through messages, and came up with the foreboding words of Will o' the Wisp together.
"I wrote a script and I sent it to him, and then he took that and he rewrote it and changed it and added quite a lot of great stuff, so at the end of the day, that part of it was a collaboration," Jennings said. (A representative for King said he wasn't available for comment.)
"He was supportive of what I'd written and liked the voice that I had given the character," he added. "I sent it to him and a couple of weeks later, I had a package at my doorstep with a CD, a typed-out transcript and a picture of him doing it."
Jennings said he came up with the idea for the album as he was driving across the country with his fiancee, actress Drea de Matteo, and their infant daughter, Alabama, as the economic crisis hit in late 2008. As he listened to the radio, he heard the fears of people who predicted everything from a police state to the end of the U.S. as it once was.
Jennings concedes the album paints a grim picture of the future.
"It seems like we're losing our freedoms and a lot of our rights day by day based on the things that have happened in the world," he says. "But I think that the overall message of the record is a positive one, that truth and love and the connection between two people is something that no matter what happens in the world, it can't be touched."
"Black Ribbons," due March 2, is Jennings' first album in two years. The son of country legend Waylon Jennings has done country and hard rock music, and this album blends both genres with his new band. Jennings is hesitant to put a label on his new sound with Hierophant.
"I think to know me as a person is to know that my brain is much more (all) over the place than one area, and I think with this record I've really opened all of those boundaries and all of those doors," he said.
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