Country music ain’t just one thing no more. Like a successful flower or a particularly virulent meme, it’s spread out far and wide and evolved into a myriad of different strains and incarnations. You’ve got your Trad Country (Johnny Cash), your Pop Country (Carrie Underwood), your Country Rock (Blackberry Smoke), your Psychobilly (Reverend Horton Heat) your Alternative Country (Lydia Loveless). And of course, Outlaw Country.
Only here’s the thing. Sam Outlaw doesn’t play Outlaw Country. It’s just a namesake coincidence, like a cop named Lawman or an executioner named Graves. Leaning more to towards the deliciously singable, richly narrative arm of country music that puts him shoulder to shoulder with Guy Clark, Tom Petty and The Eagles, Outlaw prefers to keep things clean-cut and catchy. Earning renown from such luminaries as Ry Cooder and Ryan Adams, Outlaw has just wrapped a European tour for his amplified and energised sophomore album ‘Tenderheart’.
GIGsoup’s Matt George Lovett caught up with Outlaw around his London date, to discuss producing your own albums, Tom Petty guitar tones, iPhone demos and Wonder Woman.
You play a real blend of classic country music and electric rock. Where d’you think that comes from, who are your guiding stars?
I’d say Asleep At The Wheel for sure. Then Emmylou Harris, Tom Petty, Bryan Adams. And Enya.
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So your latest record ‘Tenderheart’ is self-produced. How does that differ from ‘Angeleno’ being produced by a veteran like Ry Cooder?
Ry Cooder brought his beautiful guitar work to Angeleno, so it was a stretch to try to make an album without him. Once we got started though, the band got into a great rhythm and it was really fun. Definitely a new challenge to produce my own songs!
How was the writing and recording process for ‘Tenderheart’? Are these songs you’ve had ready for a while or were they tailor-written?
It was a mix really. Some of the songs on Tenderheart are songs I’ve had for a good long while. Others are brand new songs that we were getting finished up and arranged in the studio while we were recording. It was the same with Angeleno. A real mix.
What were some of the new influences that went into the ‘Tenderheart’ album?
Tom Petty guitar tones were definitely referenced in the studio. As it happens my co-producer and engineer Martin Pradler has worked closely several times with Mike Campbell. So we had a sporting chance of getting close to the right sound!
Have you got a favourite song off ‘Tenderheart’?
The title track is probably my favourite right now. I love the 12-string guitar sound on the choruses. I also love the song “Look At You Now”. The recording you hear on the album is actually just the iPhone demo with a pedal steel over-dub.
‘Bourgainvillea I Think’ is one of the album’s standouts and feels quite personal. Is there a true story behind it?
It’s a completely true story about a neighbour I used to know.
How d’you feel about country music’s growing audience in Europe, and does playing a gig in Europe vary to playing to a US crowd?
In general, UK and EU audiences are more “polite”. They really listen during the show. Though sometimes we’ll have a more rowdy audience. Places like Copenhagen and Madrid.
Have you already started thinking about a third album?
Oh yes. I plan to track a new album very soon. I’ve been very inspired by the new movie Wonder Woman and the story of the people who created the character. Fascinating people.
Who are you listening to in the country music world right now? Who are the artists you’d recommend as not just a performer but a fan?
My picks would be Molly Parden, Dori Freeman, and Caleb Caudle.