Going back to country music can be a route forward

Our editor and resident Tangipahoa Parish songwriter Jesse Brooks shares how going back to the country roots of music can lead to the redirection of American music. Photo by Matthew C. Roy.

By Jesse Brooks

I’ve been doing a lot of tweaking to my music act while in the extra solitude we have these days. I’m planning ahead for three records and that includes me almost being finishing with making the final decisions on which songs will be on each of them. I really think they will be three completely different records.

I’ve also have been tweaking the live show setlist and have even gone as far as thinking about what guitars to use on certain songs and which tone settings to use. All in all, I’m cutting back on the amount of electric guitar I play now that I have the Martin with the good plug.

All of these decisions have me thinking about the entirety of my music. I’m in a good place. When I started as a kid, I was always in pop-punk/emo/indie bands with some batches of “acoustic” songs I had on the side. Then I started playing what I considered “new American rock-n-roll” in bands. It was great. But then I began to want to focus more on the overall craft of songwriting.

Starting over to pose as a “country” singer is something I’m getting more comfortable with. I’m not a country singer like in Nashville but I feel like I’m going back to the roots of American music to completely start over and go in a different direction.

Going back to a base of “country” gives me a basic framework to start with and then I can start dropping in everything I’m influenced by like I’m working with a blank slate. Although this identity once felt like an inevitable fate I wanted to avoid in my youth, it has now given me a freedom I could never find in indie or progressive rock while playing in a garage band. I always felt like I had to follow someone else’s rules in those worlds.

Besides, I can now enjoy the country music I loved in secret. When you know the artistry behind it all, you will know that country is cool and always will be. To hell with haters.

By starting over at country, I no longer have to follow the ironically conformist rules on “selling out” that come with punk rock. I don’t have to be super heady and sacrifice simple song structure and lyrics that accomplish communication in the name of “progressive” rock. I can, however, be as experimental and difficult as I’d like to be and still come back to being simple and solid.

This is why country music is vital, maybe more now than it has ever been. It’s a starting point that eventually invites in jazz as Jimmie Rogers and Chet Atkins did in their careers. Blues has always found its way into country. It’s how we got rock-n-roll.

We are alive at a time where someone can cite Hank Williams and Otis Redding as their influences as well as Lynyrd Skynyrd and American Football.

Let’s use our references wisely.

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