Before he was half of critically acclaimed Americana duo the Civil Wars, John Paul White was a solo musician who released his debut album, “The Long Goodbye,” in 2008.
But the next year, he and singer Joy Williams combined forces to form the Civil Wars, eventually releasing two albums and several EPs and winning four Grammys.
After the band’s 2014 breakup though, White, the solo musician, emerged yet again, first with 2016’s “Beulah,” then with April’s “The Hurting Kind.”
Before his Thursday show at the Bartlett, White spoke with The Spokesman-Review about the album and making people cry.
Q. This album came from your desire to create the record you couldn’t find. Why do you think the “countrypolitan” sound fell out of style?
A. I think there’s some folks that maybe looked at it in a derogatory way. It was considered slick and I know, at the time, Chet Atkins got a lot of grief for bringing more arranged, symphonic strings in and getting rid of other elements, banjo and things like that, and having a more crooner kind of style to it, but man, I love it. And my parents loved it so it was a big part of my childhood, but I’ve exhausted that discography. I read somewhere Beverly Cleary said “If there’s a book you want to read and you can’t find it on the shelf, then write it.” I realized I was trying to make a record I wanted to hear and couldn’t find.
Q. Did knowing how you wanted the album to sound beforehand influence the lyrics you wrote?
A. Not necessarily. I knew there was song structure and things like that that did affect phrasing … but I was pretty mindful of not trying to make it sound like a throwback record. It sounded like a modern record or even, dare I say, timeless. I didn’t really want it to feel like it was from a specific era, especially lyrically. It felt like that was something that could set it apart from other music. It’d still be my songs and my voice but with a different backdrop.
Q. You wrote with Bill Anderson, Bobby Braddock, the late Whitey Shafer. Did it take much convincing to get them in the studio with you?
A: With Bill and Bobby, no, they both are still in the writing game. But somebody like Whitey, he hadn’t written a song in 10 years. It was really his wife who twisted his arm … He finally said “OK, I’ll give it a shot.” We wrote a song. Sadly he passed away within a year of that, but I know how happy she is that she has that song and that we were able to have a relationship for at least a short amount of time. I wouldn’t take anything for that memory.
Q. Were you at all worried about how the “countrypolitan” would be received?
A. I’d by lying if I said I didn’t think about it. I have never succeeded in creating anything to please others and I tried for a long time writing songs for the Nashville market … As soon as I started making music just to make myself happy, I started getting activity. With this record, on the surface I am saying “I made this record for myself.” And in one way, I didn’t care what anybody else thought about it. I felt strongly that it was a good record… but I have an ego. I have pride so the idea “What if people completely turn away from this because they wanted something else?” – that gets in your head a little bit but I can’t be any good at this and let this creep into my brain too much and alter what I’m making.
Q. You say in your press bio “The songs that I gravitate toward are the hurting kind.” You’ve also curated a “Songs to Make You Cry” Spotfiy playlist. Why are we so drawn to those sad, hurting songs?
A. I guess we’re all sadists (laughs). I grew up with my dad always being a fan of sad songs or songs that make you feel something … I need that from anything I listen to. I don’t listen to a lot of songs to cheer myself up. Sometimes I listen to music to escape from the world I’m in. My kids love pop music so we listen to a lot of really modern top 40 stuff and every once in a while, I really enjoy it… but more often than not I need to feel something. I make no apologies for writing songs that make people cry. I enjoy it when people tell me that I make them cry at a show. I’m like “I’m not sorry.”
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