There was always a home studio in the house where Waylon Albright “Shooter” Jennings grew up; after all, his parents are country legends Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter. At 10, Jennings connected with the first Nine Inch Nails album, he says, and remembers he was most interested in the pianist, “because he played everything.” So he entered his parents’ studio and did the same on his own songs.
For a decade and a half, Jennings, now 40, has been a successful artist in his own right, with eight of his releases reaching Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart. More recently, he has turned his attention to producing for friends, from Brandi Carlile to Marilyn Manson, approaching their albums in a way that puts the artist first. “I’m joining their band,” he says, “becoming a part of their music.”
In 2016, Jennings asked Carlile to guest on his album Countach (For Giorgio), a tribute to the legendary Giorgio Moroder. She insisted he get involved in her next project: the widely praised By the Way, I Forgive You. With production by Jennings and Dave Cobb, the album landed six Grammy nominations and three wins — the first such victories for Carlile and Jennings.
As a longtime Guns N’ Roses fan, it didn’t take Jennings long to go from a McKagan collaborator to a close friend. By the time they recorded the first two songs for Tenderness, McKagan’s third solo album, their wives were running errands together. “He’s part of our family for life,” says Jennings.
In April 2018, Jennings released a Record Store Day exclusive of Hellbound Glory’s Pinball (Junkie Edition) with a new version of “Better Hope You Die Young” featuring Tucker. After spending time with Tucker in an L.A. studio, Jennings asked Carlile to co-produce what would be the country legend’s first album in nearly 20 years, out Aug. 23. Tucker had reservations, so Carlile sat with her for every vocal take. Says Jennings: “Everybody trusted everybody.”
Manson is one of Jennings’ oldest friends, which helps explain how he ended up producing the shock rocker’s upcoming LP. Since November, the process has been a “cycle of chaos,” says Jennings. “We fucking dove into a black hole together and came out the other end with this record, and we’re a lot closer, you know? That’s the best way I can describe it.”