Over the past decade or so, it’s hard to find a better body of work in country music than what Sturgill Simpson has done.
His 2013 debut, High Top Mountain, and the 2014 follow up, Metamodern Sounds In Country Music, are two of my favorite records. Throw in the Grammy-winning A Sailor’s Guide To Earth, the “sleazy, steamy, rock ‘n’ roll record,” Sound & Fury, and his most recent project, The Ballad Of Dood & Juanita, and you have a 5-piece combo or musical greatness.
And that doesn’t even include Sturgill’s bluegrass albums, which I enjoyed so much that it was the final nail in the coffin on me buying a record player so I can listen to them on vinyl.
So how does he do it? It’s pretty easy…
Sturgill sat down with producer Rick Rubin for an episode of his Broken Record podcast and while the entire episode is worth the listen, one thing Sturgill said about the music business really stuck out to me.
“Just make art, f*ck the rest.”
And at risk of snatching up an out of context, inflammatory headline for clicks (which I know Sturgill hates), here’s a longer excerpt from the conversation:
“I want to have something I can look back on and know that I did not compromise whatsoever, I did this the right way. And it was very important to me and it still is.
And then, somewhere along the line, you get on the train and it’s hard to tell how fast the train is going when you’re on it.
You get sucked in or manipulated, the music industry has a really scientifically-applied methodology about making artists feel like if they don’t keep treading water they’re gonna drown.
And the next thing you know, you wake up and you’re completely burned out.”
He then went on to explain the two instances when he realized that this was happening:
“I went to Merle Haggard’s house for the very first time ever, and I think Merle only won one Grammy in his career.
And when you walked into the house, it was sitting on the floor used as a door stopper to hold the screen door open, just scratched and beat all to hell, and I was like ‘got it.'”
And the second time was when Sturgill’s producer David Ferguson asked Rick himself if he was up for any awards this year.
“We were there in the room that you’re sitting in right now and he asked you if you got any records up for anything this year Rick, and you said, ‘I don’t know,’ and I knew you weren’t bullshitting.
And I was like, ‘that’s it, just make art and f*ck the rest.’
And I’ve been trying to commit and live in that headspace ever since. And just block out all the trivialness and hegemony of the system that makes us think we all have to end up on these lists every year, standing at a podium giving little speeches.
Because it doesn’t have sh*t to do with anything about connecting with human beings and making music.”
Well said… well said.
You can always smell the bullsh*t coming a mile away. And while some artists might have some immediate commercial success, great art stands the test of time.
I’m not an artist, I’m barely even a hobbyist musician, but I can’t imagine the feeling of waking up in 30 years, looking back on your career, and absolutely hating the music you made. What a nightmare is must be to feel like that.
Referring specifically to Stu’s bluegrass records, Rick also said the project has the potential to turn people onto bluegrass that would not have normally checked it out, and I couldn’t agree more.
For me personally, Cuttin’ Grass has definitely sparked an interest in more bluegrass. Mission accomplished.