Shooter Jennings will release a new studio album — simply titled Shooter — on Aug. 10. Billboard is excited to bring you an exclusive first listen to one of the album’s cuts, the rollicking “D.R.U.N.K.” Jennings said the song is somewhat of a departure for him, as it’s one of the first times that he had a successful experience from the standpoint of being a co-writer.
“That one came about when I was producing the Brandi Carlile record (By The Way, I Forgive You) with Dave Cobb. Dave was doing another project on the weekends with this guy named Aaron Raitiere, who is a writer. I had never really had a successful co-writing session. I never really sat down with someone – especially someone I didn’t know – and completed a song that I liked. Aaron has this office that he shared with Anderson East above RCA Studio A, and Dave said ‘Why don’t you go hang out with him and see what happens?’ One thing about the record that I particularly wanted was to have a good drinking song, so I got in text contact with him, and told him what I was trying to do with this record. I went up to meet him and he said ‘I’ve got this line – I’m gonna tell you what I’m gonna do with my whole day – I’m gonna get D.R.U.N.K.”
Jennings said that idea has been used before – in a David Allan Coe song, but he and Raitiere were able to come up with something very different. “It’s got some funny lines, but it’s a serious situation – to some degree – taken with levity. We wrote the song in about an hour. We really hit it off quick. He’s a really good guy.”
If the overall sound of Shooter sounds a little bit reminiscent of country music from a different era, he says your instincts are right. He and Cobb set out to make an album that will remind you of some of the ’70’s and ’80s work of Hank Williams, Jr., who was one of his early influences.
“That’s what we set out to do,” he affirms. “Albums like Major Moves or High Notes – those still sound good to me. The records he cut in the ’70s and ’80s were simply unprecedented and so influential to me. There was something about Hank Williams, Jr. that I really latched onto from an early age,” he says, adding that he loves coming in contact with other fans of Bocephus, as the subject matter will invariably drift from classic hits to album cuts.
“You meet guys who knows those records, and they can sing you ‘Mr. Weatherman’ or ‘I’ve Been Down,’ you know they know him. There’s a certain type of Grateful Dead following with him that if you’re a big fan, you know every word of ‘Knoxville Courthouse Blues’ or ‘Outlaw’s Reward.’ I had an enjoyable run last year with Mark Chesnutt. I had never met him before, and we hung out. He was a huge Hank, Jr. fan. Then, I met a guy named Andrew Pope, who has a bright future in country music, and he’s also a big Hank Jr. fan. He gave me these bootlegs of live performances – just outstanding stuff. Just the other day, I did a show with The Turnpike Troubadours, and R.C. Edwards– the bass player – sang an old song of his during their set. We started talking, and those records came up. There’s almost something of a card-carrying membership when it comes to people who like Hank, Jr. I can really talk their ears off. You don’t run across them that often.”
Jennings said he’s attempted to tap into that era before, but never more so than on Shooter. “If you look at things on Electric Rodeo, there were moments where I dipped into that sound, but I think that with this record, I really wanted to bring that Jerry Lee side into it – that ‘Outlaw Women’ kind of feel. Dave loves all of that shit by proxy, because I’ve been playing it for him for years. We weren’t going retro or derivative, but we weren’t afraid to let that sound fly. There are a lot of great artists out there now, but nobody is really referencing the ’80s, so we set out with that in mind. It’s not all that way – ‘Fast Horses’ is about as far away from Hank Jr. as you can get, but there’s a lot of different layers to it – some are more Waylon, some are more George Jones, and some are even more Bad Company, but there are definitely shades of Hank Jr. all throughout. That was in the game plan, the original conversation of what we were going to do with this record. I wanted to go all out in that direction. Let’s left turn it all the way to 1987, and let’s do it that way.”
In addition to his own records, Jennings loves getting to sit behind the glass while producing other artists. “I love doing records on people. I’m working with Marilyn Manson on a project right now, and a lot of cool people. I’m doing a record on Duff McKagan from Guns N’ Roses, so I’m getting into a lot of L.A. people that are pretty cool. With all the other things I was doing, being able to go straight country was a lot of fun.”
One of his next projects will keep him in the country lane, as he and Carlile are slated to produce Tanya Tucker’s next record this fall. Working with an artist of the magnitude of Tucker is something that excites them both, says Jennings.
“When I worked with Tanya earlier this year, the thought came up to do an album with her, and it just struck me that I should involve Brandi because she grew up on Tanya.”
Whether performing or producing, it all comes down to keeping that creative spirit alive. “That’s the thing I love the most – making records and creating new things. That’s always the thing that grabbed me. Making records is the thing that I really love. Doing all those records with Dave showed me that he cared a lot about the things that I didn’t back then – studio equipment, the way The Beatles recorded certain things – so I learned so much from him, then started doing my own records and then other people’s.”
Could one of those people one day include Hank Williams, Jr.? Jennings – whose father produced a pair of albums on the singer in the 1970s – said he would welcome the opportunity.
“I would love to do that. I’ve always wanted to do that. I think it would really be great. It came up when I was doing the record with Dave. I asked him if he would ever produce a Hank Jr. record. He said ‘If you’ll do it, I will.’ Either way, with Dave or without him, I would love to do that. I would love to have a relationship with him. I’ve hung out with him a little, but I’ve never been what I would consider close with him or gotten to know him that well. I would think we would have a good working relationship, but who knows?”