NoiseTrade One-on-One

Interview with JD McPherson

Our newest NoiseTrade One-on-One features an interview with rock revivalist-reinventor JD McPherson about his electryfing brand new record Undivided Heart & Soul (out today on New West). During our discussion, McPherson tells us all about the creative inspirations that led to his new album, what it was like to record in the historic RCA Studio B, what led him to Nashville from Oklahoma, and much more!

NoiseTrade: First off, happy release day for Undivided Heart & Soul. Personally, I can’t stop spinning it. Tell us a little bit about the sonic inspirations (especially your guitar playing) and the lyrical themes you worked with throughout album.

JD McPherson: I was in Austin, TX a few years ago and walked into a guitar store. I was actually looking at an old Gibson J-45 because I wanted an acoustic to write with. However, something else caught my eye: a 1961 Supro Dual Tone, like the one you see Link Wray holding in his early press photos. It was calling to me like the Sirens singing on the rocks. I plugged it in, played “Rumble” and just like that, I had to have it. I would say that that guitar purchase was the first sonic spark for the new album. I wanted to make music with fuzzy edges.

NT: The story goes that a musical getaway weekend with Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age, Them Crooked Vultures) and Dean Fertita (Queens of the Stone Age, The Dead Weather) helped charge up some of your new songs. What prompted the trip and what are some of your fondest snapshot memories of the trip?

McPherson: To Joshua and Dean, it was the act of a friendly neighbor helping a buddy move a refrigerator out of his basement. To me, it was the ultimate act of kindness of pulling me out of a very deep, muddy rut. It was a musical spa. The fondest memory was watching the I, Martin Short, Goes Hollywood comedy special in the studio.

NT: Looking back over the album’s tracklist, which was the first song that kicked off the creative process for you, which song came the easiest, which song was the hardest to feel “finished,” and which was the final song that let you know you had a completed record?

McPherson: The first song written doesn’t count, because I wrote it for the Cactus Blossoms originally, That’s the title track, “Undivided Heart & Soul”. We never got around to recording it and I selfishly stole it back from them!

The first track that I wrote while writing for the record was “On The Lips.” My first reaction was “who is going to record this, certainly not me” because it was so different from everything I’d written for myself to sing. My wife convinced me that it was obviously written from a very personal place and I went ahead with it. I’m glad I listened to her, because it’s one of my favorites now.

I knew I had written a complete record when I finished 11 songs! Most people make a record and will have a giant stack of songs to select from, but that hasn’t been my story at all. I usually write just enough tracks to call it a record and usually under duress. It’s not an optimal situation! I’m just not very prolific. The last one across the finish line was “Under the Spell of City Lights” which I cowrote with Aaron Lee Tasjan.

NT: You recorded Undivided Heart & Soul in Nashville’s historic RCA Studio B. What was it like making an album in that room with so many stories in the walls and the “night owls only” time schedule?

McPherson: It was like a dream. I keep saying it was like the hotel in The Shining, where the magnetic forces stored up in the walls influence the inhabitants to… do things. But, instead of Jack Nicholson being compelled to go after people with an ax, I was compelled to add more fuzz to guitars and run everything through the old echo chamber. EVERYTHING got sent through that Echo Chamber!!

It’s a magical place, and I was humbled to be in that tracking room.

NT: You recently moved from Oklahoma to Nashville. What sparked the geographical relocation and what are some of the main differences (and similarities) that you’ve already noticed between the two cities?

McPherson: Several things influenced that very last minute move, but the main idea was to pursue more writing. I wanted to write with people who do it for a living, to learn better songcraft. Since moving there, not only have I had the opportunity to meet and write with some great writers, but I’ve also found that you can get so much done in that town. Need a Vibra-Slap at 3am? You can make that happen in Nashville!

NT: Finally, in our recent New West Artist Roundtable interview, you mentioned that a “long and lively discussion” about punk music helped seal the deal of your signing with them. So I’m extremely curious what aspects of punk rock were discussed and what are a few of your favorite punk albums and bands?

McPherson: It was mostly just about favorite bands, live shows seen, and a couple of people at New West had been in punk bands back in the day. Just shows that they’re well-rounded and love music. My favorite punk bands are Bad Brains, Stiff Little Fingers, the Buzzcocks, The Ramones, and a little-known hardcore band from Tulsa called N.O.T.A., who I got to open for once. It was AWESOME!

When writer Will Hodge (@will_hodge) isn’t sailin’ on, you can find him running off at the keyboard about music, concerts, and vinyl at My So-Called Soundtrack