Too much information? Jason Isbell believes opening your life to fans builds a stronger bond

Streaming HUBJune 5, 2023

NEW YORK (AP) – If Jason Isbell is keeping many more secrets, it’s hard to imagine what they might be.

The singer-songwriter and his wife, fellow musician Amanda Shires, open up their lives for public consumption in a way that’s unusual even for artists who search their worlds for material. Through interviews and a film released this spring, they have documented a rough patch in their marriage and how Isbell’s drinking nearly destroyed his career before they recovered.

The sharing gets so raw that when Shire reveals he gave Isabelle a test for sexually transmitted diseases before sleeping with her, you’re tempted to shout, “Too much information!”

For Isbell, it’s a necessary part of the job.

“If I am withholding part of myself from the audience, I would have a right to do so,” he said. “But I don’t think the connection will be that strong. Connecting with people on an honest level is more important to me than controlling my image.”

Isbell, 44, has been one of rock’s top songwriters ever since her first post-drinking album, “Southeastern,” came out in 2013. Their upcoming disc, due out June 9, “Weathervanes,” will only strengthen that position.

Shires, a formidable talent in her own right and a founding member of The Highwomen, also plays violin in Isbell’s band, 400 Unit. Director Sam Jones’ film, “Running With Our Eyes Closed,” shows tensions building in a marriage largely through Isbell failing to deal with the pressure of making her 2020 disc, “Reunion.” Shire briefly moved out of his home.

The storm gathers through the flustered glances, eye rolls and uneasy expressions of the other musicians.

In a harrowing scene, Shires reads an email she sent her husband about the possibility of marriage counseling, her lower lip trembling as she fights back tears.

His 2022 song, “Fault Lines,” dealt explicitly with marital troubles. She sings, “You can say it’s my fault we can’t get along.” “And if anyone asks, I’ll say what’s true, and in fact, it’s ‘I don’t know’.”

Isbell said that honesty is equally important to both of them, although social pressure makes it difficult for poets to make it public.

“We can sell millions of records and have all the fans in the world, but it won’t be enough if we don’t feel like we’re telling people the truth, and that’s not easy,” he said. “That’s why most people don’t aim for it… That’s the difference between art and entertainment, and I think it’s so important for us to realize that we’re making art and not just distracting people. “

Filmmaker Jones said Isbell agreed to make the documentary without preconditions – and it held. They have been a part of the process through the pandemic, with the couple filming scenes at home with their daughter.

Jones is convinced that “the artists we love the most are the ones we feel we know the most,” something his experience making a documentary with Jeff Tweedy and Wilco taught him.

“I firmly believe that people want to see other people being human and vulnerable and vulnerable and making mistakes, and it makes them feel more connected and bonded to art,” he said.

The film goes into some detail that Isbell was fired from the band Drive-By Truckers because of her drinking. Thanks to Isbell’s manager, who stashed away the footage in case her client relapsed, it includes clips of Isbell’s last, uncredited performance before going to rehab.

“It wasn’t easy watching,” Isbell said. “But at the same time, I knew. I missed. There was a reason I left. There was a reason I couldn’t sit down with my wife and drink wine at dinner. I’d love to do that, but I can’t.” “

As well as publicly presenting such a document, how she has dealt with the experience in song (“It gets easier but it never gets easier,” she sang on the “Reunion” disc), the responsibility Layers add up.

He said, “If I ever go back to drinking, I feel I’ve let a lot of people down.”

Going further back, Jones shows how Isbell dealt with the unhappiness of home life by retreating to her room and playing loud guitar with fighting parents. The story also publishes the lyrics of his song “Dreamsicle”.

One consequence of the candor is that a listener upon hearing his new song, “Death Wish”, first wonders whether he is writing about Shire. The song deals with loving someone who has a mental illness. “Have you ever seen him climbing on the roof, higher than a kite, freezing cold in a tank top?” He sings.

Partly it is, he said. And it’s also about other people he knows. He takes the liberty of a lyricist to develop a character.

Many of the new songs deal with people fighting adversity—a working-class man who becomes addicted to painkillers, the horror of a school shooting, the woes of loneliness and a misunderstanding with someone “turned out to be a strong and silent Southern man.” ” In the deeply personal “White Beretta”, Isbell sings with an ex-girlfriend as she gets an abortion.

The album is not without hope, however.

“The hope is to tell people, ‘I felt the same way,’ even if the way you feel is isolated or sad or scared,” he said. “If you’re able to do it in a way that makes people think, ‘I’m not alone in this feeling,’ I think that in itself provides hope.”

The process of songwriting has not been easy for him. Isbell relates the famous description penned by the late player Red Smith, who said, “All you have to do is sit down at the typewriter, cut a vein and let the blood flow.”

Isbell adds a lyrical requirement: “Your blood better rhyme.”

“I guess my standards have changed over time,” he said. “The more I write and the more I listen, the more I try to avoid things I’ve heard before, and every time I sit down to do it it takes me a little longer.”

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