Shooter Jennings first raised eyebrows last year with the suggestively titled album, Put the ’O’ Back in Country. This time around, Shooter has put more country in his second project, Electric Rodeo. Answering questions from fans, the son of Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter talks about cussing in his lyrics, casting a Waylon movie and keeping up with Toby Keith. He also has some kind words about his band members — guitarist Leroy Powell, bassist Ted Russell Kamp and drummer Bryan Keeling.
1. Is the new album more country-sounding than the last one — or more rock?
That’s hard to answer because the album is definitely in a lot of ways much more country. Then, in certain ways — when it goes rock — I think it’s a little more rock than the other one. I think we’ve successfully blurred the line a little more though between the two, which is what we’re all about anyway. So, both would kind of be the answer to that.
2. Do you bring in studio musicians, or do you choose to record using the same great musicians who back you up night after night on the road?
I do not bring in studio musicians. Leroy, Ted and Bryan, who play on the road with me, play on the records. They always have. We made the first record together, even without a record deal. The second one, we did our own way, too. Just because I believe that the music isn’t allowed to evolve. … I can’t even understand the way of thinking of doing that because, to me, when you get the musicians that create the music, that’s the only way the music is going to continue to evolve. You get to know each other more. You get to work with each other more. You become better at reading each other’s intuitions and everything. To me, that’s the only way to do it.
3. After hearing the song on the first album, I have to ask: Was it really Leroy’s fault y’all got busted in Baylor County?
No, it was not Leroy’s fault. It was kind of all of our fault because Leroy was driving, but Leroy was the only one who was not partaking in the pot smoking. And we rolled down the windows when the cop was pulling us over — and that’s what got us busted. Because he asked us, ’Why’d ya’ll roll down the windows,’ and we were dead silent. We didn’t know what to say, and he knew right then something was going on. So, it was not Leroy’s fault. He was speeding a little bit but … anything but not saying anything is a better answer, you know what I mean?
4. How often do you write songs? Is it a routine, or do you write when inspiration strikes?
It is not a routine for me. It definitely only works when inspiration hits me. I am not a person who can sit down and write a song. I can’t just say I’m going to sit down and write a song about love or something. For me, I have to kind of live through an experience, and it kind of comes back, regurgitates itself in the form of a song. Sometimes they take years. “Bad Magic” on the new record took me about three years to finish. Then other songs, like “Some Rowdy Women” on the new record, I wrote in one sitting. But I don’t write them all the time. It’s very organic the way I write.
5. What was it like to work for Toby Keith last summer, and are you friends?
It was awesome. He was a very sweet guy to us, and he took very good care of us. He treated us really great. We really enjoyed the opportunity that he gave us. I am very thankful for that tour, and it was a lot of fun to meet him. We haven’t really remained in contact at all, not for any reason. I think we’ve both been extremely busy, and our paths haven’t crossed yet again, but I do consider him a friend though. If he needed me for anything, I’d do anything, and I think he’d do the same thing.
6. Who is your all-time favorite artist?
Wow, that’s a hard one for me. I mean, I always say my dad when people ask me that question because he’s definitely my biggest influence when he came in my life and sang music and what I learned from him, you know. Hank Williams Jr. is pretty close to one of my all-time favorite artists though. God, I mean I love Led Zeppelin. I love the Beatles, the Rolling Stones. I have so many influences, it’s hard. But I definitely would say that my dad had the biggest influence on me as an artist.
7. If you could go back in time and see one musician or band in concert, who would you choose?
It would probably be Led Zeppelin. Just to see them perform live would have been amazing. There are a lot of other artists. Hank Williams Sr. would have been amazing. Hank Williams Jr. in 1975 would have been amazing to see. Gram Parsons would have been amazing to see. But if I could have seen Led Zeppelin in their prime, that would have been amazing.
8. With all the sordid stories that show biz people tell about their families and growing up, it is a real blessing to hear you speak so fondly of your mom and dad. Would you say you had a happy childhood?
I would say I had a very happy childhood. My parents were wonderful parents, and I was very lucky to have them. There was a lot of love and just … I was very lucky. They were great, and I am still very thankful for my childhood.
9. Where did the name Shooter come from? Was it a nickname you received when you were young?
I was nicknamed Shooter the day I was born. The real story behind the name is that my mom had a friend that was in our church that had a son that they had named Shooter. She thought that was such a cool name, and they were all into the western thing at the time. The minute I was born, I think my mom or my dad said, ’It looks like we’ve got ourselves a Shooter.’ My dad always said it was because I peed on the nurse, though, when I was born. I’ve been nicknamed that my whole life.
10. What was the one disciplinary action your parents used that really worked?
You know, they weren’t rough. My dad didn’t like spank me. He did once, I remember, and he felt so bad about it. They weren’t really harsh that way. The way my dad dealt with me was so good. When he didn’t want me to do something, instead of telling me I couldn’t do it, he would say, “I’m not going to tell you that you can’t do this. I’m going to ask you not to because I’m worried about you,” or “I just don’t think you should.” … We never fought. I never had a fight with him ever. They always talked to me like an adult when I was a kid and treated me like one. And I responded that way. They were always very gentle.
11. I know it’s damn near impossible to choose a favorite Waylon song, but just for the hell of it, what’s one of your all time favorite Waylon songs?
I love that they say that: ’I know it’s damn near impossible to choose a favorite Waylon song, but just for the hell of it …’ I like this guy. He cussed twice in this question. “A Long Time Ago” has always been one of my favorite songs of his. That and “Belle of the Ball.” It’s like, every week I change my favorite album. I’m listening to a different album, you know. But I’ll say “A Long Time Ago” because that’s a real special song. It’s off the album, I’ve Always Been Crazy.
12. Do you think one day you would do a duet in the video/recording studio as Hank Williams Jr. did with his father on “There’s a Tear in My Beer”?
Yes, I will one day. I don’t know what it’ll be. It’s not going to be quite a duet. I have some stuff that we worked on a long time ago that I’m trying to pull together.
13. We have been discussing the prospects of a Waylon film. Who would be the best choice to take on the part? Do you think Hollywood should make a movie about your dad’s life?
I’ve always wanted there to be a movie about his life. I’ve always thought it would be amazing. I’ve sat with my girlfriend for hours on end trying to think of somebody that could play him, and it is impossible. I can’t think of anybody. My mom always says Johnny Depp, and I see what she’s talking about for a younger-looking him. But he seems like he’s a little too … I don’t know, he’s not hard enough. … That’s so hard because there’s just nobody that’s like that — where my mind would go with it, and I’m so close to it. I always thought if Robert DeNiro were young, he would have been good at it.
14. Where is it that you consider home?
Los Angeles. Six years. That’s where I live. Every time I get home, I’m just happy. You land that plane and you see the weather. You’re like, “Oh, I’m glad to be back home.”
15. Where would you like to settle down some day?
I don’t know. We always talked about going to Spicewood, Texas, checking out Montana and all these places. … My vision is probably far off from where I’m going to end up. I love being around the city, but I’ve always wanted to have a ranch or a farm home or something in the middle of nowhere. I always think that would be so cool to do that.
16. When you are not on the road or performing somewhere, what do you in your spare time?
These days, I try to spend as much time relaxing at home as I can. We were off the road for three months, and we were working on a record that whole time. These days, spare time is few and far between. I just try to spend as much time with [actress-girlfriend] Drea [de Matteo] or just being at home and relaxing. We don’t really go out when we’re together because we’re just trying to relax.
17. I would love to know what is going on with you and Hank III. It seems like every day, I’m defending you on the CMT message board because his groupies come over and write stupid things about you. Is there some kind of friction between you two, or is this something that his small group of fans has started?
You know what, I don’t even comment on these things, really. I don’t even know him. I met him once, I think, for a second. And somehow all this stuff started about how he hates me. I don’t know. It’s, like, stupid. Me, I just play music, and I like his music, and I don’t understand what that’s all about. But if they decide they don’t like me, I guess that’s their problem.
18. I love for my 12-year-old daughter to listen to your music, but what’s up with the cussing in some of your lyrics?
I was bummed out that I cussed in that last record. … I didn’t like that I said “goddamn” in the one song. I got mad at myself for doing that because I felt like it limited that one song from getting out in the world, and it was almost like it’s not necessary. I’m a guy who doesn’t believe in a lot of cussing in music because I don’t think it’s necessary.
19. What new bands — country or rock — are you currently listening to?
I don’t listen to a lot of new music. I listen to the Whites Stripes when their records come out, as for new rock bands. I like the Queens of the Stone Age and Mars Volta, but I’m not crazy about any of them. I guess the Whites Stripes are pretty much the only current act in rock that I really am a big major fan of. In country, there are a lot of artists out there that I’ll pick out and listen to. I’ve mainly been into your Ryan Adams and your Drive By Truckers and that kind of stuff. I’m just kind of getting into it, but I don’t really keep up too much with current music as much as I used to. I listen to so much old music.
20. When I’m on a road trip, it’s all about Slim Jims, pork rinds (hot), greasy burgers and good barbecue when I can find it. What’s your favorite thing to eat while on the road?
All of what they said sounds great! I wish I had that every day. Good barbecue would be great, but I can’t find it anywhere, no matter where we are. “What’s you’re favorite thing to eat on the road?” Uh, cocaine and cigarettes. I’m just kidding. … When we play shows, we’re trying so hard to find food, period, that’s good. So when we’re in town, we like to try and find locally the good stuff to get. But you know, as long as we can find some pigs in a blanket somewhere, I’ll be all right.