Jack Ingram’s new album Midnight Motel offers many lessons to live by. The meditative “Nothing to Fix” is nothing but rules in succession, starting with his No. 1 music rule: “Don’t try to sell what you wouldn’t buy because you’ll go to hell for telling a lie.”
“I want to be out there providing the same emotional thing that music provided me as a fan and it provides me as an artist,” he says. “I want to give people what I want to receive, as well. I want to make music that I’m proud of through and through whether it’s a hit song or not. I want it to be a hit.
“But I don’t want to be out there with that being the focus,” he adds. “I want it to be about believing me because I’m not going to bullshit you. What I found out from experience is, 90 percent of authenticity is not authentic. One hundred percent is what it has to be. I firmly believe that.”
The collection also offers some inebriated soul-searching in “I Feel Like Drinking Tonight” and “I’m Drinking Through It.”
“Blaine’s Ferris Wheel” is a ballad about a famous bar owner named Blaine Martin. For nearly a decade, he ran the San Angelo, Texas, watering hole, Blaine’s Pub. The official website describes him as a part P.T. Barnum and part Waylon Jennings type of Texas eccentric.
To avoid jail time after his fourth DUI, Martin copped a plea deal with the judge, offering $10 Ferris wheel rides as his community service with all the proceeds supporting a local food bank. The judge accepted it, and now Blaine apparently holds the Guinness World Record for longest continual Ferris wheel ride. Toward the end of “I Feel Like Drinking Tonight,” Ingram shares one of his favorite Martin memories in a four-minute, honky-tonk epic that might be better than chocolate cake and involves many trays of tequila shots.
But above all else, the mostly acoustic album has the country philosopher telling it like it is in the title track, “It’s Always Gonna Rain,” “Trying,” “Champion of the World,” “Can’t Get Any Better Than This” and “All Over Again.” It is his first studio album in seven years following 2009’s Big Dreams and High Hopes.
When Ingram sat down for our CMT.com interview, he still had a hand stamp for an after-party following a sold-out Guy Clark tribute the night before at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium where his cover of “Desperados Waiting for a Train” with Steve Earle was the highlight of the show.
“I got to be on a Glenn Frey tribute show right after he passed away,” he recalls. “After I got to the venue, I said, ‘Who’s doing “Hotel California?” And they said, ‘Nobody.’ What I found out was that people are afraid to ask for the biggest song because they didn’t want to seem presumptuous.
“So when they called me about this one I asked who was on it and which songs they were doing. Nobody picked, ‘Desperados Waiting for a Train.’ And that’s his biggest hit. I even told them, ‘If Willie Nelson comes or if somebody really big wants it, they can take it away from me.’ And nobody did.”
CMT.com: How did you come up with the concept of this album?
Ingram: The title is the concept. It’s tangible. I can feel what this music sounds like, where it takes me, where it was written and where it was recorded. It was all written late at night. It was all written between midnight and 4 a.m., late at night on the road or in motels.
Were you tired most of the time you were writing this music?
I’ve been tired since 1999. I just knew where my headspace was and what I was sifting through as far as emotional content. It was all kind of walking hand in hand as far as where I was going to go, what kind of music I wanted to make and what I wanted it to be. I knew it was a good time for me to go strongly in a direction I knew I would feel for a long time. And there’s a song on there called “Nothing to Fix” that says, “Don’t try to sell what you wouldn’t buy, because you’ll go to hell for telling a lie.” And I believe that’s true, and it’s not any fun out there being a huckster.
Recording the songs live gives the music a more human element, too.
The dynamic changes in the songs are happening in real time. That doesn’t happen a whole lot. When you edit that out, you edit out a lot of emotion and the tangible things that people can feel. That’s the X-factor — people being able to connect with you in a way that they can’t connect with other people. I don’t want to take that out of my music just to make it perfect. People are beautiful to me because of their flaws. Music is the same way.
Is “Blaine’s Ferris Wheel” a true story?
Yes. It’s all true. He looked like a mixture between Pat Green and Shrek. He was this huge human being of about 6-foot-3, and he always looked like he’d been up for four days. He bought an elephant, and he would take it to empty parking lots in little towns in South Texas and give elephant rides. No permits. He was like, “I had to sell that elephant. I didn’t realize they ate so many goddamn peanuts. I spent all my money on peanuts and all my time picking up shit.” That was his whole bit. He sold the elephant in San Angelo and then started Blaine’s Pub — the Bar of Your Dreams. You couldn’t make it up. Then his wife said she was sick of it, and he got out of that business. He got a straight job checking pumpjacks for oil companies. He was their field guy, and he died six months later after all that. He had a heart attack and died when he stopped being an idiot.
He sounds like a special guy. Do you feel like these songs get your fans close to the source of their initial inspiration?
Yeah. I think if this doesn’t inspire you or give you a sense of who I am as an artist, then you’re just not going to like me. I’m fine with that. It sounds negative, but it’s not. If people hate me, that means there’s going to be a lot of people who love me and vice versa. That’s all I want. In between is mediocre and filler. That concept doesn’t appeal to me. I want to go out on the road and play for people who are just as passionate about my music as I am playing the music. I love it when people have arguments over what artists they love. When somebody goes, “He sucks,” and another says, “No, he’s the best,” that guy is doing it right.
How do you keep your head on straight?
By writing songs. That’s the only time I feel like I got this and feel OK for a little bit.