WMOT | By Ana Lee Published April 7, 2022 at 5:30 AM CDT
Photo: Ryan Knaack
I still sometimes cannot believe it. Two years ago, on this day we got word that beloved songwriter John Prine had passed away from complications due to Covid-19. I think it shook us all to our cores. David Newbould reacted with a song. He wrote, “Home Depot Glasses” after finding out about Prine’s passing. It’s the next single from Newbould’s fourth studio album, Power Up!, due June 10th on Blackbird Record Label. I asked David about this tribute to John Prine and what we can expect on this new album.
AnaLee: A new album! I’m so excited. I really loved your last album, Sin & Redemption and from what I’ve heard, the new one seems to live up to the title, Power Up!. It rocks and there’s a lot going on for just a couple of friends hanging out making a record. Can you tell us a little about how you and Scot Sax approached recording this album?
David:Hi Ana! Thanks so much. Yeah, we got busy with it! Basically, it all started with one song. I’d made an acoustic home demo version of the album but the song, “Power Up!” wasn’t written yet and I wasn’t sure where or with whom I was going to record it. As the first pandemic summer wore on, I took my son over to play with Scot’s girls in his backyard a few times and we ended up writing a couple of songs, one of which was “Power Up!”. It was a totally different process than any I’d ever done… he walked outside with his bass and said the repair guy told him his TV wouldn’t power up, we basically each wrote a verse, the chorus was 2 words, he recorded us jamming for about 20 minutes – him on drums, me on guitar – then I went home and kind of forgot about it until he started sending me roughs of what he was doing with it. After a week or so of passing ideas back and forth we had a final mix that kind of blew me away and I thought, “Well…I have to do my whole record with this guy”. Luckily, he had the same free time that all of us had, so we converted his garage into a tracking room and put a window looking into his studio so we could see each other and recorded most of the album like that. It’s almost hard to remember that state of being already – no contact, never really in the same room. It may sound sterile, but it got really exciting. We cut drums and acoustic guitar/vocals live, and then added just enough of whatever else we wanted to hear. He’s got an ace sense for approaching engineering the way they did on a lot of the records we both love (i.e., few mics, well placed, play it the way you want to hear it and hit record). He’s an incredible rhythm section all on his own, so much that the whole process inspired me to go and build my own home studio and pick up instruments I haven’t messed much with in years. He could see I was digging the ideas he brought so I think he enjoyed the freedom of being able to turn things up, add weird percussive elements…just go all in. And since I was the only guitar player on the record, I allowed myself to stretch out in ways I don’t think I ever have on any of my albums before. We shared the keyboard duties and cut a couple of songs live with different iterations of my band outside in his driveway. The whole thing was very creative and quirky.
AnaLee: The video we’re premiering today is for the album’s second single, “Home Depot Glasses”, that you wrote when you found out John Prine passed away. I remember that night vividly, that news packed quite a punch. Talk a little about writing it, the video and what John Prine means to you.
David: Well, I read the news that night – on my phone, through the $6 readers I buy at Home Depot – and actually wrote the song the next day. You know, it was just an incredibly defeating feeling. It seemed he was going to get better and then *wham*. He just represented all that was right in artistry: completely original, warm, pure, never dull and with a seemingly endless well of his own unique gifts on which to draw, and you can’t find a soul in the world who didn’t respect him and the life he’d carved out for himself. One of my favorite stories about him is how when he finished the first ever song he ever performed at that open mic in Chicago, he thought he’d done something wrong because there was silence. Like, “Uh oh…what’d I do wrong? Guess I better go home and get ready for the mail tomorrow”. Then it turned out everybody was just… frozen by what they’d just heard, how deeply it must have cut them…and a few seconds later the room breaks into an overwhelming ovation. “OK then… guess I’ll do another.” He affected so many peoples’ lives so deeply and never seemed to be anything but this warm and personable man who made music because he loved to, and was very supportive of all his friends and artists who he believed in. Obviously here in Nashville too, he was a pillar to the community of writers and artists, and as covid was setting in and we were all losing a lot of our connections with people and friends, I really just felt the collective wind fall out of the sail that night when I read he had died. Like just…damn. I guess that was what really hit me the most about it. This was an artist whose greatest superpower was his empathy, his way of getting inside these characters’ souls down to the finest and most intimate and quirky details, and making songs out of them where you couldn’t help but relate to some element of the story being painted. “Well you know she still laughs with me…but she waits just a second too long”. Who of us hasn’t felt ghosts of happy memories hovering over a joyless present at some point? And who else on earth writes that… all packed into one line like that? You just felt that when you put on a John Prine song, there was someone in the room who knew you well, and who you felt like you knew. It was all about heart. Now he was gone in a very heartless and cruel way. And it’s not to minimize the loss of anyone else from covid or anything else, and I know he still lived a very full life and would probably tell everyone please don’t cry for him. it’s just the power of truly great art and a truly great artist, that they can feel like a part of your life and community and represent an ethic and honest purity, even if you don’t have any personal relationship with them. So, the sense of loss is just gonna be there. And most of us are just fans, but he left a wife and friends and family who loved him so much and who were suddenly going to have to try to rebuild their own hearts, and they’re all here too and we all know some of those people. All that stuff hit me immediately as I read the Rolling Stone headline. It just felt like maybe everyone was trying to hold on to some semblance of life as the way we all knew it, then the purest songwriter and most beautiful of people is taken by this stupid thing, and it just sucked. And still does. And like I said, worse too as the reports seemed to be that his condition had stabilized. So, the hope I know we all felt was that the next step would be improvement, not the end. Anyway, the next day I just wrote a stream of consciousness piece about how I read the news and offered my own little corner of what I felt like his life and work represented – just…all the things I mentioned above. How he spent so many years offering up these beautiful little insights that we could at least still carry into the new world. Like if you were feeling lost, or angry, or any number of random emotions – humbled, embarrassed – there would always be something in his work seemed to be there to address that. I had a melody and we cut it that way, but I wasn’t happy with it. I didn’t know what I wanted but I wanted it to go a bit deeper. So, Scot suggested we find a beat on his Lowery organ and that I play it to that…I did it 5 times and by the last time there was no melody, I was just talking my thoughts out loud, and blurted out “thank you, John” on that very last take. Completely unplanned. I then added some actual lowery organ and Scot added some ringing slide guitar, all to give it a bit of a dreamy “through the looking glass” kind of backdrop behind the words. For the video, I was actually going for a Bruce Springsteen “Brilliant Disguise” in reverse – one camera slowly panning out through the course of song. It was just impossible to lip-sync cleanly in one take though, and I didn’t want to cut the vocals again live (as Bruce did), since time and money were a factor and that would involve a whole new mix and master. By that point I was mentally done with that stuff. So we had to use some other angles to help pull it off. But I wanted it to be simple, intimate, black and white, and Scot brought the mojo like always. Did I mention Scot did all the videos for this album as well? People – hire this man, please.
AnaLee: The album is all new originals, except for the first single released, a cover of a song written by famed Nashville producer, Allen Reynolds, that Crystal Gayle had a big hit with in 1976. “Ready For The Times To Get Better” could be the theme song for the 2020’s so far. Would you tell us what this song means to you and who plays that haunting fiddle on your version?
David:That’s Kristin Weber. She’s an incredible musician who plays with a lot of great artists. That’s another one Scot and I cut mostly live – drums, acoustic guitars, vocals, and added bass and harmony vocals right after, so the whole thing was one very quick blast. I tried adding some atmospheric electric guitar and we might have messed around with some piano or organ, but ultimately decided the starker the better. Fiddle seemed to be the one instrument that would add sometime to it if done right, and damn if Kristin didn’t nail it immediately. Scot and I (and millions of others!) both love the Desire album, so I’m not gonna lie and say we weren’t thinking of that approach with the fiddle. As for the song, it’s a very Nashville story… there was maybe going to be a thing with a publisher friend of mine where I was going to cut some songs they owned to pitch for movies, but then Covid came and it all kind of fizzled. That was one of the songs they had suggested though and I kind of didn’t let go of it. I just felt it spoke to me and to the moment, and I really sunk into it. I love the chords, the melody, the lyric, and we managed to get a groove on it that really connected to us. You would have to work pretty hard to mess up a song that good though. Scot had the 2 drums mounted on shelves and was just banging on them while I played and sang. Amazing.
AnaLee: Will you be releasing any more singles leading up the release of Power Up! in June? Any shows coming up here in Nashville or out on the road?
David:Yes, and yes! We have 2 more singles and videos coming out before the record – one in early May and one the week before the release. I’m so psyched for people to hear them. I didn’t even know if I was going to release this album at all when we started it. It felt like such a weird time and some of the songs so personal to the moment that I really just wanted to capture it all as a statement as best I could. Then it just kind of grew its own momentum as we went along. And the particular moment already feels like it’s long gone. Covid is still lingering, but now Putin’s murderous bloodbath of a war in Ukraine has taken hold of everything, and clearly the new forefront of global consciousness. No one deserves the type of hell that people are dealing with over there. It could be any of us. Peace and stability are such precarious commodities when you share a planet with people who want to tear them down. It’s just so heartbreaking. Covid changed the world, now this is changing it again. The moments are passing quickly. As for local shows, my band and I are playing the Magnolia Roads Hoedown April 29 at Dee’s. We’re also having an album release party Friday June 10 (also at Dee’s!), which is also my birthday so it should be a pretty good party. Stephie James – who is *awesome* – is opening and we’ll have lots of other friends and special guests coming up to do songs with us. I’m currently booking dates for summer/fall/winter, mainly in the eastern half of the country but we are also looking to put together some runs elsewhere. And anyone interested in hosting a house concert anywhere, please hit me up via my website. And lastly, maybe even more exciting than all of that somehow… is that it looks like I’ll be doing a solo tour in Europe for the first time ever this fall – Belgium, Holland, Germany, followed by another run there next year with my band. Needless to say, I’m very excited about this, and my plan is to keep going over there and building on it.
AnaLee: Thanks, David, looking forward to the album release and seeing you out at a show this year.
David:Thanks Ana! Look forward to seeing you too. As always, I appreciate you and WMOT and all your support.