There are a great many deep, philosophical moments spread throughout Ryan Culwell’s upcoming new album, The Last American. But he also managed to have some sonic fun — particularly in the single “Heaven Everywhere I Go,” which premieres exclusively below.
The track is an upbeat slice of noir rock, combining 4×4 drive with an airy mood. And the Nashville singer-songwriter is particularly proud of the mid-song breakdowns that take it to a fragile near-stop before it starts chugging along again. “That song was fun,” Culwell tells Billboard. “I wrote it in several different sections — a little here, a little there, a lot that didn’t make it. I think it worked out really well.”
“Heaven Everywhere I Go” includes a brief bit of radio broadcast that Culwell says came to him during a drive to the studio one day. “There was a bunch of static on the radio, like Department of Transportation alert stuff going on,” he recalls. “I don’t know why my radio was on AM, but I held up my phone or I might’ve had a digital recorder with me and recorded all the static and the little warnings they were saying. When we were recording the song there’s this big breakdown where things fall apart, and right before that I put in this static.
“The whole thing reminds me of a police chase. There’s the set-up on the first two verses and then there’s a lot of static going on, everybody’s getting in trouble there, and then it feels like it all falls apart and gets real quiet before we get back into the song. It’s basically two songs smashed together, and they informed each other really well. It’s probably an insane thing to do on a record, but we did it and I really like it.”
Due out Aug. 24, The Last American is Culwell’s first outing since 2015’s Flatlands. During that time he had two more children (for a total of four) and spent time working day jobs that included landscaping and, more interestingly, driving a pedal tavern in Nashville. “Satan invented those, but they pay my bills,” says Culwell, who’s still pedaling now. “I feel like I’ve got a real good sense of who America is ’cause I’ve seen thousands of people come through and jump on my bike. What song they want to hear and how they treat people and how they treat each other, if they get drunk and make fun of every minority on the street that doesn’t look like them or they say really gracious things…You get a real sense of people from that vantage point.” Some of that, he says, factors into The Last American, a title that was suggested by a friend some 13 years ago that Culwell finally fleshed into a thematic concept for the 10-song set.
“I’m always finding the duality in things,” says Culwell, who’s planning to tour to support the album’s release. “I love America, but it’s also got some problems, so it was a matter of holding those two thoughts long enough to figure out what they mean to me. It feels like a love letter to me, but a very serious love letter, with a lot of corrections. I hope people hear that. I’m pessimistic but I’m hopeful as well, and I think it sounds like that. Things are substantially dark, but we have a lot of reason to hope.”