Jason Isbell is Moving to Nashville and Getting Sober, but He's Not Starting Over
Although he's a good 11 years into his musical career, it seems as though Jason Isbell (Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit, ex-Drive-By Trucker) -- playing Friday, June 29 at the Sheldon Concert Hall (3648 Washington Boulevard) is just now settling into a comfortable place as an artist. After sweating it out in dingy rock clubs over the last five years with the 400 Unit, more recently Isbell has found himself playing shows in three thousand seat concert halls across the world as a solo act opening for the likes of John Prine and Ryan Adams. Throw in the fact that he's sworn off alcohol, and he recently moved away from his longtime home, Alabama, and it's no wonder why the man seems to have a new lease on life. We recently caught up with Isbell while he was in the midst of moving and spoke with him about his recent successes, his plans to record with Adams, and getting more out of his days.
Michael Dauphin: Is this move to Nashville something you had always considered, or did this just kind of pop up?
Jason Isbell: I had considered it for a while. My girlfriend (Amanda Shires, singer/violin player) lives there, and she can't really live down in Alabama. She does some session work in Nashville so I couldn't ask her to move down to the middle of nowhere in Alabama.
Do you intend to immerse yourself into the whole Nashville scene, producing albums and whatnot?
I've been doing quite a bit of that in the past, and I intend on doing the same thing I've been doing. You know, I didn't really move up there to try to find job opportunities. It was mostly just for a girl, I guess.
Alabama is a place that has been deeply ingrained in your songwriting. Is it weird to leave that area?
I'll only be a couple hours away. I honestly don't think it's a whole lot different here and there. I try to keep a sense of place when I'm writing, and I'm sure I'll continue that. Nobody wants to live in the same place their entire life. Well, I guess some people do. But I don't.
I've seen you mention on your Twitter account that you're no longer drinking. Has touring been a different experience without booze?
Not completely. It was a little difficult at first but I got used to it. But the thing is, one time I heard a heroin addict say, "thank god I'm not an alcoholic." You don't drive by billboards with pictures of heroin on them, or open a magazine and a bunch of advertisements for smack or cocaine. But if you're going to quit drinking, you're going to have to do it wherever you are. People would think that being in bars and clubs every night would be more difficult. But, really, the world is a bar if you're a drunk. You can get liquor anywhere.
But it's been real fun for me and I've really enjoyed it. I get more time out of the days. I think the live show's better than it was before, and my voice has done some encouraging things. I heard the first thing you start to lose when you're getting drunk is your hearing. Since I quit drinking, I could tell that's come back a bit. I don't need the monitors as loud, which allows me to not have to sing as loud. I wouldn't recommend it for everyone, because I know plenty of people that really need a fucking drink sometimes.
Congrats on the four Americana Music Awards nominations. Were you surprised by that recognition?
Yeah, it was a surprise. I was really happy about it and I'm glad that folks in that world were paying attention to what we're doing. Because I do feel like that's where most of the best music is coming from these days. It's nice to have a lot of friends from all over in one place for the evening. We're not the kind of community that pats itself on the back compared to popular music or Hollywood. I've been to this awards show in the past and it's a laid back evening. Nobody really takes it too seriously.