John Moreland
Saturn Presents:

John Moreland

S.G. Goodman

$20.00
Ages 18+
John Moreland with S.G. Goodman at Saturn

The replay of John Moreland’s network television debut is…glorious and affirming and a sucker punch. He is announced by Stephen Colbert, lights dissolve, and the camera slowly focuses on the person midway across the unadorned stage, revealing him beneath muted blue lights.

He is a big man.

Seated, alone, cradling his acoustic guitar.

He looks like nobody who is famous.

Then he begins to sing, to caress the song “Break My Heart Sweetly,” and all that remains is to whisper, “Oh, my god.”

In Colbert’s studio everybody stood, like they were in church.

Big Bad Luv is the record John Moreland made after, after everything in his life changed. For the better.

He sings in one of those accents from flyover country that’s impossible to locate and implausible to mimic. (Texas, by way of Northern Kentucky, but mostly Tulsa, as it happens.) He sings directly from his heart, with none of the restraint and filters and caution the rest of us would apply for public protection. He sings with resolute courage.

He sings.

And writes. Writes with simple eloquence about love and faith and isolation; the human condition; what every song and poem and novel is about, at the core: Life.

“Break My Heart Sweetly” came from his second solo album, released in 2013 and titled In the Throes. High on Tulsa Heat, released through Thirty Tigers, landed him on Colbert’s stage (that’s the LP Colbert held up). Song placements on “Sons of Anarchy,” an emerging artist nomination from the Americana Music Association.

Enough sales to compel Moreland to give up his DIY label operation, and sign with 4AD. “It grew to the point where I couldn’t really handle everything myself,” he says. “Even with a manager and a small team, I came to the conclusion that I’d like to play music and not worry about the other stuff.”

Enough success to buy a measure of peace, and not more pain. “I expected to just play in the corner of the bar and have people not really pay attention, make $100, go home and go to work the next morning, doing something I didn’t like,” Moreland says. “So, yeah, I didn’t really expect to be here. But, then, on the other hand, I did. I feel like I’m good enough to be here. And I’ve always been confident, even when I probably shouldn’t have been. I knew I was an outsider. I didn’t have a lot of faith in the music industry to let me in. But I guess they have. To some extent. That’s what I hoped for, but I wasn’t sure that would be how it worked.”

“In churches learning how to hate yourself/Ain’t grace a wretched old thing” he sings, the song called “Ain’t We Gold.” Big Bad Luv is unmistakably a rock ‘n’ roll record. If, that is, one understands the term to include Ray Wylie Hubbard, John Hiatt, and Lucero. Or The Band, maybe. Insistent songs, coming from a voice as elegant as unfinished barn wood, songs which insist upon their words being heard.

His fourth solo album, not discounting two records with the Black Gold Band and a third with the Dust Bowl Souls. Nor discounting early excursions into hardcore which were not youthful indiscretions but crucial training in the emotional honesty of confessional songwriting. A rock album, to be performed by a rock band. A partial break with the solitude of solo touring.

“Two or three years ago,” Moreland says, “it would have been impossible to picture touring with a band. Now that’s changed. I think I’ll still do some solo or stripped down shows, but I have the option to bring a band with me if I want. Ultimately it’s just what the songs felt like they should be.”

Big Bad Luv was recorded down in Little Rock, mostly with a crew of Tulsa friends: John Calvin Abney on piano and guitar, back from Tulsa Heat; Aaron Boehler on bass; Paddy Ryan on drums; Jared Tyler on dobro. And then Lucero’s Rick Steff on piano, which ended up being the catalyst for completion.

“I always start off writing whatever comes naturally,” Moreland says. “Once I’ve got seven or eight of those, then I’ll take stock and look at what I’ve got, figure out what belongs on a record together, and what might not. Then I’ll figure out what kind of songs I need.”

Three sessions over ten months, sandwiched between touring dates and life. The final sequence roughly approximating the order in which songs were written. “I chose the sequence for what I thought worked best musically,” he says, untroubled.

“Quick bursts of recording,” Moreland goes on. Gives off a quick laugh. “It’s not like we’re sitting there over-thinking the performances, I’m definitely a fan of just hit record and play it. But then there’s long stretches where I’m not in the studio, when I’m listening to what I did, asking how do I turn this into a record?”

The key turned out to be Rick Steff’s promise to record next week, even though Moreland didn’t have songs, not a one. “I went home and wrote five songs in four days and finished up,” Moreland says. Another deep, wry laugh.

Big Bad Luv is, at least by comparison…maybe…a happier record? “I don’t think I’m writing songs that are that much different,” Moreland says. “It’s always been a positive thing at heart, even if a song isn’t sunshine and rainbows. At the very least my songs have been a way to exorcise negative feelings so that I can move on. And hopefully they provide that same experience to listeners. So that’s what I’m still doing. I think it’s a positive thing. I think this record, there’s definitely a change in attitude, but it’s the same point of view.”

Oh, yeah. And Tchad Blake mixed it. “He’s also the only person I’ve ever worked with on a record whose name I can drop.”

“Slow down easy, I’ve been hauling a heavy soul,” he sings, this song titled “Slow Down Easy.” Carrying it for all of us, but no longer alone.

What does a songwriter who has mined darkness do when he finds a measure of contentment?

This was the challenge that faced Fayetteville, AR songwriter Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster when writing his new album ‘Take Heart, Take Care.’ A songwriter who had success with Water Liars and Marie/Lepanto (his collaboration with Will Johnson of Centro-Matic) and has earned acclaim from NPR, Billboard, NY Times, and Paste Magazine now took time to reassess his writing process. Kinkel-Schuster, who everyone calls Pete, says, “I had, more than anything else, good things to say, and ironically I was unsure of how to say them. I’d spent so long yawping at perceived darkness both real and imagined, internal and external, that I was in a sense starting from scratch, learning to express something good in a way that didn’t feel cheap or silly or disingenuous to me.”

“It took a long time, relatively speaking,” he says, continuing, “It involved a lot more patience and consistency.” He is talking about songwriting but could be talking about the work of showing up for life. He lists the means that helped with the latter, all as if still unfolding: “Learning to stop making the same mistakes over and over. Moving to Arkansas. Meeting my partner. Finding peace and stability at home but being able to keep working. Finding a balance between all of these things. Being sober for a number of years and working on upkeep.”

This balance of which he speaks comes through in ‘Take Heart, Take Care.’ Characters are drawn to and away from other people. They seek both risk and comfort. In the album opener “Plenty Wonder,” he sings of the concept, allowing himself “Plenty wonder in this world still to be found.” The notion of balance comes up yet again when singer and songwriter Julien Baker reacts to the album. She says, "’Take Heart, Take Care’ is a beautiful intersection of grit and tenderness. Pete’s lyrics are immediately intimate; brutal enough to swear at you, but familiar enough to dispense gentle wisdom in its plainest form. This record is an appeal to the essentially human, a perfect balance of poetry and candor, full of soul-feeding truth and heart-breaking honesty."

Several songs look back at a younger self with curiosity. “Friend of Mine” belies the camaraderie of youth; “Cut Your Teeth” is about seeing abrasiveness around us but then finding and cherishing “a deep and gentle welcome place inside” and remembering the journey that brought you there and the maintenance needed to keep perspective. It also powerfully alternates from fingerpicked acoustic guitar to hails of overdrive.

“Name What You Are” may be the most autobiographical song here (a medium in which Pete does not usually traffic). “It’s being quietly amazed at the places and conditions you put yourself in and why and what that meant at the time and what that means now having more or less dedicated your life to it.

The atmosphere of ‘what the hell’s going’ on but it not mattering as much as that you’re simply doing it. For lifers in terms of making music, I would hope it might pretty true.” Yet the fingerpicked guitar and melody is more about the reflection back than the manic activity remembered. When asked about the song, Pete quotes Harry Crews, “Survival is triumph enough.”

Several songs, such as “Take Heart, Take Care,” are in the second person as if speaking directly to those out there who can identify with his earlier, darker experiences. He sings, “Time, time is the mender, whose strange mechanics, yet untold, bid us rise entwined together.”

Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and novelist Forrest Gander notes how this technique makes the listener lean in, saying, "You'll notice a little delay in the timing as the tunes of JPKS' "Take Heart, Take Care" back-eddy while he leans into and opens up the song's long vowels. It's almost as though the singer were pausing for a friendâ€"that's usâ€"to catch up, to keep him company just before he turns to dive into the reprise. In fact, friendship is a recurring theme in this album. The second song is ‘Friend of Mine’ but other lyrics remind us ‘to keep it close’ so that what counts doesn't go ‘asunder.’ Pete's voice has an easy, unfeigned sweetness tinged with melancholy, and its warmth blows convincingly behind the alternately precise and fuzzy guitar notation that gives the album its definitive sound."

The intimacy that Gander and Baker observe comes of both form and function for Pete: a desire to keep things simple aesthetically but also the limitations of time and money. His bandmate in Marie/Lepanto, Will Johnson, taught him by example how to build a record by yourself; Pete followed this method, playing all of the instruments except keyboards. “Will is a hero of mine and I’d grown to admire his way of working. We made the Marie/Lepanto record in 3 ½ - 4 days and looking back, I was taken aback that we were able to do that. I take a lot of cues from Will,” he reflects. It freed him. The effect is cinematic yet direct, wind across the plains at times, humidity you can feel at others, and the occasional glimpse of a promised coastline, all of it from a view always in motion.

The sounds also provide a backdrop of a complicated world for Pete to approach his type of makeshift, hard-won providence. The underlying message is of hope, to others as well as himself. He states, “Here I’ve fumbled my way, as always, and of necessity, into a collection of songs that hold a light to the joys and comforts of life not given up on, those that appear over time as we are looking elsewhere, to surprise and delight us when we need them most. Sure, it’s me, so there are glimpses of and nods to the dark, but the dark is not winning anymore. I simply mean to acknowledge its presence. To me, that’s the most fundamental job of songs, of stories, of all artâ€"to be allies, friends, companions, when we need them most and it’s my hope that these songs can do that work in a world that seems to need it.”

So what does a songwriter do when he finds contentment? He tries to pass on what he knows in hopes of helping the next person.

Venue Information:
Saturn
200 41st Street S
Birmingham, AL, 35222
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All of us are constantly monitoring the ever-changing situation with regard to COVID-19. As part of the community, we’re sad that we can’t do what we do best…host some great nights of live music. We know what an emotional uplift music provides at times like this. But what’s most important for right now is for us to follow all guidelines regarding large gatherings -- mandated or recommended -- until we are told it’s safe to re-open. We need to do our part as good neighbors to help lessen the impact of the coronavirus. Right now all of our shows through the end of May are officially postponed, but governmental timelines at all levels are constantly being reassessed, so unfortunately ours remains fluid while all of this progresses.
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