Roots music luminary Jim Lauderdale has returned to the Yep Roc Records roster and he’s celebrating the occasion by releasing two incredibly cool records this summer – one of brand new music (Time Flies) and one previously unreleased one that was originally recorded back in 1979 (Jim Lauderdale and Roland White). For our newest NoiseTrade One-on-One, we interviewed Lauderdale to discuss the story behind both forthcoming albums, his impressive list of collaborations and co-writes, his various approaches to songwriting, and much more!
NoiseTrade: First things first, you’ve got two really interesting albums coming out this summer, Jim Lauderdale and Roland White that was originally recorded in 1979 but is just now seeing the light of day and a brand new one called Time Flies. Can you give us a little backstory on each of those forthcoming releases?
Jim Lauderdale: The record with Roland White, who is one of my musical heroes, would have actually been my very first album but I couldn’t get a deal for it. Later, after I had some records out and thought it was time to finally release it, Roland and I discovered the tapes were missing! Last year, Roland’s wife found a tape with a mix on it and it was still in good shape. I’m overjoyed that it can come out.
Time Flies is what I’ve been writing and recording most recently. While a few of the new songs are in the traditional country vein, I feel like the rest of them has a different sound than what I’ve done before.
NT: Regarding the bluegrass album with Roland White from 1979, what’s it feel like to finally have an album get released almost 40 years after it was first recorded and what do you hear in your own performances and songwriting when you listen back to it now?
Lauderdale: It’s interesting to hear my voice and to hear two of my earliest bluegrass compositions. It’s hard for me to be objective about my singing. It sure brings back memories of those sessions and my thrill and feeling of good fortune of getting to sing with Roland. The two originals were written just for the album.
NT: Alongside your solo releases, you’ve also written songs for many other artists (George Strait, The Dixie Chicks, Vince Gill) and worked on some incredibly fruitful collaborations (Buddy Miller, Ralph Stanley, Robert Hunter) throughout your long, rich musical career. Personally, the work you’ve done with Elvis Costello is my favorite of your musical partnerships. What are a few of your fondest memories of hearing someone else sing one of your songs and sharing the stage or recording studio with an artist you admire?
Lauderdale: I remember hearing Patty Loveless and George Jones singing “You Don’t Seem To Miss Miss Me” for the first time on the radio. I pulled over in my car and just cried. I still get goosebumps and emotional when I hear them sing it. It’s surreal to hear others do my stuff. Sometimes I’ll hear something in passing and I’ll think it sounds familiar and then remember I wrote it.
It has also been surreal and hard to believe my good luck of getting to collaborate and perform with people who I’m so in awe of and that have influenced me so much. Ralph Stanley was a lot of fun to perform with. His voice sounded incredible all the way until the end. Robert Hunter is flat out brilliant, period. Elvis Costello is so inspiring to be around. He’s one of my favorite artists. He lives and breathes music. Buddy Miller and I have been good friends for a long time and is such an amazing singer, guitar player, writer, producer, and human being. I’m extremely indebted for the kindness and generosity of these folks for letting me work with them.
NT: Do you have any different approaches to songwriting depending on whether you are writing for a solo project versus writing for another artist? Have those lines ever crossed in interesting ways, like a song that you wrote for one artist ended up being recorded by someone else or you got to hear a personal solo song of yours get interpreted by another artist?
Lauderdale: When I’m writing a record, I just open my mind to whatever might come out. Then I’ll see later if it fits with the other songs. When I’m writing for someone else, I try to channel them in a way and try to tailor it to them. As it turns out, those songs that I often think are just right for them are not the ones that get recorded but the ones that do are often things I wouldn’t have thought to pitch to them. That has happened a lot with George Strait. It’s always a thrill to hear someone record my songs and I’ve never been disappointed, just grateful.
NT: To close things out, your decades-long appreciation for multi-genre roots music has made you a prominent voice in the ever-shifting discussions of Americana music. Instead of asking for a drawn out definition of the elusive term, what are a few of your album recommendations from other artists who you feel really embody the sonic spirit of Americana?
Lauderdale: There are so many records to recommend and not enough space and time. The term Americana to me means; Bluegrass, Blues, Soul, roots rock, singer-songwriter, folk, country, Gospel, and American roots music. It can also get hard to define because our roots music is influenced by music abroad and vice versa, so international artists could also be considered Americana. Here are a few recommendations in no order: Buddy and Julie Miller, Lucinda Williams, Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris, Muddy Waters, Otis Redding, Punch Brothers, Jason Isbell, Nick Lowe, Grateful Dead, Gillian Welch, Rodney Crowell, Kentucky Colonels, Stanley Brothers, The Band, Elvis Costello, Doug Sahm, Howlin’ Wolf, Elvis Presley, Robert Johnson, JD Crowe and The New South, Don Stover, Seldom Scene… that’s just a few suggestions. There is truly a wealth of great Americana artists.